Libraries, Archives, Technology, Impending Doom
I ran into oneofthelibrarians on the street the other day and apologized for being so delinquent in my posting. She brushed off my apology but said that, if I was interested, she and TheLuddbrarian were both writing entries about what they wish they had learned in library school, and that I was welcome to use that prompt if I wished.
My first thought was that, “I didn’t really learn anything in library school.” That was also my second through eighth thought. I decided to write an entry about what a waste of time library school was, how much more I learned from my years in the trenches of Barnes & Noble, and how intuition, charm, and compassion can’t really be taught in an academic context.
Then I realized that I was going about this all wrong. The question she asked wasn’t, “What are you thoughts about library school as it exists, and how did you feel about your experience?” but “If you could create a school that would teach future librarians, what would be on your course list?” No surprise that I’m being asked to start from scratch, rather than attempt to change an institution from the inside (joke: How many anarchists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: You can’t change a lightbulb, you have to smash it. I’m not an anarchist but like the answer nonetheless). As a children’s librarian, currently in a school but with a strong interest in public librarianship, I don’t particularly care what the taxonomists or archivists or metadata specialists learn, so they can build their own ship.
One class that someone needs to teach is “Ethics vs. Ethics,” or how being a librarian and bound to codes of confidentiality and freedom to read relates to being a teacher in a school, particularly one with very small children. Teachers often want to talk to me about what books their kids are reading, and parents have sometimes asked for a kid’s circulation history so they know what their kids have been reading. I’ll also ask parents to keep an eye out for an overdue library book, which automatically violates patron confidentiality. To be fair, given my population, these are usually Rainbow Fairy or Wimpy Kid or dinosaur books. If I was in a high school and a kid checked out a book on being trans or pregnant or bipolar, I know I’d keep that completely confidential no matter who was asking or why. I’d have no reason to disclose circulation history about any adult patron in a public library, and I’m hoping I’d be one of those librarians who stood up against the Patriot Act. But as an educator in a school I don’t feel quite right not talking to teachers about the chapter books their first graders are checking out, or asking parents to help their child find the Superman book four other kindergarteners are waiting for.
I took one class in collection development, but that mostly consisted of reading lots of different genres of literature and talking about how different readers like different things. I’d like to take a class about curating a small children’s collection and what choices you have to make. The books that I buy have thus far been a reflection of what I think is important, filling in holes and gaps in the existing collection. In a library of under 7,500 volumes, there isn’t that much room, and I’m making a conscious choice to not fill that space with books that I think are oppressive. I’m less concerned with “trash,” since I want my kids to love reading and am not as concerned with instilling them with good taste, but I just can’t justify buying picture books written by Fox News correspondents or racist chapter books. I suppose this class could also be called “Ethics vs. Ethics.”
There would definitely be a class on how to navigate queer, trans, and political identities while working with children, parents, and colleagues in privileged settings. Depending on the library school I might be the only one in that class and the reading list might be sparse, but in my dream world we would fill a lecture hall.
A roleplaying class would be incredibly helpful. Good actors would portray a wide variety of challenging patrons and all the students would practice, practice, practice. The instructor would drill you on compassion and kindness, and there would be pop quizzes on patience and breathing. We would try different smiling techniques, work on our Ps and Qs, come up with different inflections of “Have a nice day!” and learn how to apologize sincerely without accepting blame. This would be a year-long required course, in classes of maybe half a dozen so everyone gets tons of practice.
I might be the only person who remained super excited about his thesis throughout the project, so I’d keep that class offering. One prerequisite, though, would be to choose a topic you could remain fascinated and passionate about. There would be a Joy-o-meter test you’d have to pass before solidifying your topic. One day would be dedicated to thinking of clever titles.
These are all things I sincerely wish I had learned in library school. Instead of muddling along, feeling constantly conflicted about the ways my myriad identities, beliefs, and obligations intersect or collide, making it all up as I go along and always convinced that everyone else has the answers and they’re just not sharing, I’d have a syllabus to refer back to and notes that I’d taken on lined paper. For now I’ll just keep on trusting my instincts and sticking to my guns.