Librarians and librarianship, teaching-training-learning, facilitating conversations that support community needs, and creating relationships between objects in collections all come together near the end of the Week 2 activities within R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and explorations of his book The Atlas of New Librarianship. We see, at this point, our topic fully developed: librarians (and other members of library staff) as active, vital participants in the communities they serve; as trainer-teacher-learners; and so much more—as facilitators of critically important conversations that can positively improve communities and society at large.
It’s a huge challenge—one that Lankes reminds us is not something that is going to be nor should be accomplished solely by librarians working to develop and implement their own agenda. It’s a cohesive mission and a perceived mandate built upon and extending traditional roles while responding to contemporary and evolving needs. It’s something that requires community collaborations and partnerships without regard to political labels—although, it should be noted, there has been a bit of a discussion by blog and tweeting, from at least a couple of course participants who perceive New Librarianship to have an obvious “liberal” leaning. Lankes himself directly addresses that perception in The Atlas: “…librarians are activist—not liberals or conservatives but simply dedicated to real change through doing” (p. 118) and leaves it to the rest of us to decide whether we want to engage in conversation by label (e.g., conservative and liberal) or conversation by possibility (e.g., what should/can the future of libraries and librarianship be?).
“Ultimately, we need to be responsive to our communities in what we are trying to do,” Lankes says in his “Librarianship: Theory and Practice” lecture online. “We need to look at the deeper roots about how people learn and knowledge occurs, how our mission shapes how we interact with our communities, what our community needs, what we see as a better day for them.”
As I’ve noted throughout my own reflections on the content of the course and the book, I see incredible opportunities for community-building and collaboration through what Lankes and course participants are exploring. This is an approach that combines theory with a call to action. It calls for a collaborative and in many ways comprehensive approach to librarianship, learning, conversation, and creating/developing knowledge through sharing while not losing sight of the fact that great efforts also require tremendous moments of reflection so we can ground our actions in cohesive value systems established by members of communities rather than having values and agendas imposed upon communities.
It’s a view that, while attempting to shift our concepts of “collections” from objects to the people who make up communities, also is broad enough to acknowledge that the collections and tools that are important to members of those communities must be developed and maintained in ways that guarantee their use by members of the communities. Librarians, Lankes asserts, can be vitally important players by helping others see the relationships between elements of those collections and, more importantly, how those elements serve the needs, values, and agendas created by community members themselves.
There is plenty of ambiguity within New Librarianship as proposed, and that, Lankes says, is natural since there is plenty of ambiguity in the evolving face of librarianship and the communities it serves. Librarians (and, I would suggest, other trainer-teacher-learners) can help resolve some of those ambiguities by working with community members rather than ignoring the ambiguities and other challenges, he continues.
The efforts extend across multiple platforms. Changes are needed in the way librarians (and others) approach and participate in formal education and lifelong learning. Changes are needed in the way librarians (and others) approach leadership and innovation. Changes are needed in the way librarians (and others) define libraries and librarianship.
What unifies all of these wonderfully overwhelming challenges is that learning is part of the landscape. And that’s something any trainer-teacher-learner can appreciate—and embrace.
N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.