A contemplative post to celebrate libraries in their fullest glory and realistic struggles
It is National Library Week- I want to spend this post celebrating and contemplating our shared love of libraries and our roles as school librarians through the lens of both exuberant and tough love. We get to touch the lives of students and staff whether through a book recommendation or a new technological device. Our programs are academic, social-emotional, extra-curricular and everything in-between. Our spaces are communal, contemplative, and creative. As stewards of the library we are jacks-of-all-trades, wear many different hats; and sometimes, we are the leaders of a three-ringed circus. Dare I say, we are the unicorns of the educational world; practical and magical. But I would also like to dispel myths and misunderstandings frequently perpetuated from outside sources and share questions that I grapple with tenderly and doggedly daily.
Since we are keen purveyors of media and news I have noticed a repeated pattern of news coverage of libraries that shape people’s perceptions of our roles that many of you have probably also noticed. Headlines that shoutout “are libraries dying” or some iteration of that, but then the rest of the article extols the virtues and vital services we offer and the innovation transformations taking place. So, those that do not read beyond the titles are not picking up the positive press. So while the majority of article shows a fuller picture- the “If it Bleeds, It Leads” title approach undercuts the support they offer. Some of our stakeholders, administrators, and patrons in their busy lives only remember the misleading lead. On the flip-side, have any of you noticed the new decorating trend for restaurants and co-working spaces to look like a traditional library- they are intuitively seeking the quieter side of libraries. Imitation is the sincerest form flattery. The world of commerce and interior decorating are turning to libraries for space inspiration and ambiance recognizing that many people love the structure and architecture of libraries with all the positive associations and purposes of them. Yet, the direction that actual library design is going moves towards a futuristic aesthetic. I feel both of these circumstances fall prey to the “either/or” fallacy in the classical argument; a faulty reasoning that states that there are only two extreme solutions that are possible.
I am officially reclaiming our headlines so that libraries are an “and” not an “or.” This false dichotomy has been plaguing the understanding of our programs and space that you are either a quiet, traditional library or you are a buzzing, cutting edge learning space. Why can’t we have we have both. I want both. I try to accomplish both; and I know through this organization, many of you do too. Instead of swinging wildly on the pendulum of trends represented in “either/or” thinking, I prefer that we move to the rhythm of a metronome where we set the pace- ticking back and forth in equal measure-contemplation and collaboration, introspection and expression, solitude and camaraderie, traditional and contemporary, print and digital, etc. How do we influence, convey, educate stakeholders outside of our library world- our administrators, teachers, and students that we as experts in this domain continue to contemplate the uses and purposes of our spaces that we can honor and improve the best of our heritage and embrace new ideas, mediums, and space usage as well. To listen equally to our veteran and venerable librarians and our riveting, rule-breaking rookie librarians and every librarian in-between?
I find solace and inspiration in our AISL and greater librarian community. When you share a new way you restructured a research project you are adding the “and” back in. When you share how you restocked recycled items to your makerspace you are adding the “and” back in. When you share about “big literary events” productions you are adding the “and” back in. When you share how you defined a quiet space and collaborative space you are adding the “and” back in. I also find immeasurable support and ideas about how to balance the spectrum of our roles through the annual AISL Convention. I had never been to a convention before with an equal balance of program sharing and exploring many physical libraries- a marriage of program and place. I now conduct my own library-tourism based on the AISL convention when I travel. I am so excited to learn how we all balance program and place next week in Atlanta. These narratives are the primary sources so important to share the broad and all-encompassing value we add to our communities. I send my gratitude to your multitudes of library forms. Happy National Library Week!