“The Collection”

I recently misunderstood a request being asked of me. I thought I was asked to share the book that had most influenced me as a professional. Noooooo, not a superlative! This is the way to get me into my head considering everything of professional importance that’s ever crossed my path. Here was the actual request: “share a reading / resource / book / video that has been particularly helpful for you professionally.” Okay, I can breathe with that! Not that I’m stress-free, but I can focus and answer.  

Well, kinda. I ultimately chose a book (Getting Things Done) and a podcast (Hidden Brain), one for practical skills and one for developing a more nuanced understanding of how others’ view the world.  

After being a solo librarian for my whole career, it was unexpected last week to read Seth’s take on “the collection.” When Rebecca posted earlier this fall on how we select and familiarize ourselves with books in our collections, I eagerly participated and read the responses. Because, for me, it’s rote at this point. I hadn’t gotten out of my routine to think metacognitively about what I did, nor even the path that led me to develop these routines in the first place. But this reflection is what helps us grow, and it’s worth it to take time out to reflect.

Because we are a relatively small school, I’ve bought or accepted as a donation every book for the Sunshine Library for over fifteen years. I’ve spent untold hours on Titlewave and Amazon. I’ve set up thousands of seasonal displays. I’ve checked out the books and subsequently added them back to the return cart. I’ve waited outside students’ classrooms to try to get popular titles returned. As the collection has changed size over the years, both with purchases and weeding, I’ve reallocated shelf space by moving books. I’ve dusted the shelves. Occasionally. Perhaps some of you are with me. Without thinking, I can answer these questions:               

“Where can I learn about the Gilded Age?”        
“Where’s that creepy book that Will recommended during book talks?”        
“Do you have the India book in this Countries series?”

If you ask me about books with orange spines for a Halloween display, I can picture where they sit on the shelves and the general design of the cover.  It’s deep knowledge. Invisible knowledge. But it’s also relatively useless outside this collection, this library. It makes sense that many librarians settle in at their schools and with their collections. While the learning gap is high for a teacher moving to a new school, it’s higher for the librarian. Because the same projects are offered year over year, it’s easy to seem like an expert on Greek mythology, vitamins, or the city of Boston. It easy to be enough of an expert on citations that you know which teachers care that the citations are perfect and which care more that students include the right parts. You are perhaps legitimately the “printer whisperer.”

 Between Rebecca and Seth and the questions that come through AISL each week, I want to thank you for making us all better librarians who think not only about what we do but why we do it, and thus ways to continue to improve. There are parts of the job that feel like second nature after a while but actually involve deep knowledge continually reinforced. Our community of librarians is there to remind us to nurture that knowledge. That way the library continues to stay relevant and be a useful resource for our students, a helpful resource for our teachers, and maybe a slight mystery for the people who wonder how we know the exact physical location of the book they’ve just vaguely described….

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