New Librarianship MOOC: The Importance of Worldview and Mission

July 23, 2013

A consistently appealing aspect of 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 his book The Atlas of New Librarianship is how much further they reach beyond the obvious target audience of librarians.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoGiven that so many members of library staff are involved in facilitating learning within the onsite and online communities they serve, it’s no surprise that Lankes’s expressed hope “that members and communities beyond libraries find value in the Atlas” (p. 11) does, in fact, match the potential to appeal to many involved in training-teaching-learning regardless of whether our work takes place in public, academic, or special libraries; in (other) academic settings; or in the workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs served by my colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development.

At the heart of this expansive approach within the course and book is worldview, a topic nicely addressed in Lankes’s Week 1 taped lecture “The Importance of Worldview”; a second taped lecture—“The Mission of Librarians”—adds even more context to any discussion we have.

Lankes begins by reminding us that worldview helps shape the very questions we ask (e.g., “What is the future of Libraries?”) and, therefore, shapes the ideas we consider and the actions we take as a result of our explorations. In a particularly fruitful example of how questions and worldview affect the world we help create, he takes us through variations that product distinctly different responses and results:

  • “What is the future of libraries?” becomes
  • “What should be the future of libraries?”—a less deterministic view in that is doesn’t assume there is one already clearly-defined future to consider—then becomes
  • “What should be the future of libraries and librarians?”—which then becomes
  • “What should be the future of libraries and librarians in a democracy?”

And that’s where an astute reader makes the leap that Lankes facilitates without directly adding it to his agenda: applying that style of employing a series of evolving questions to challenge and reshape our worldview can have a positive impact within any profession—particularly the field of teaching-training-learning. This, for me, is another confirmation of my own long-held belief that librarianship is in significant ways part of the larger playing field of training-teaching-learning rather than being a field completely unto itself.

“Worldviews matter,” Lankes says in his lecture. “Worldviews help us shape policy. They really do shape our thinking.”

Furthermore—in defining the mission of librarianship as “to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities”—he tells us in his “Mission” lecture that “Journalists can see themselves with this mission statement. Teachers can see that. Publishers. Authors. Lots of folks can see that mission, so the mission statement is not enough to define librarianship.” But it is enough to remind us that we have colleagues and potential partners across the aisle, and that tremendous collaborations that serve our overlapping communities of interest are possible if we’re willing to step away from our traditional desks and workspaces to engage with those potential collaborators.

Lankes also, in that lecture on mission, explicitly confirms that “in new librarianship, we focus primarily on how people learn….Learning theory becomes a fundamental part of the worldview of librarianship, of new librarianship.”

If we are astute enough to pursue this line of inquiry and action, all of us involved in teaching-training-learning—whether within or outside of libraries—will be closer to playing the transformative role that Lankes documents in his book and course, and that our profession-vocation inspires.

N.B.: This is the second in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


New Librarianship MOOC: Public and Civic Spaces

July 22, 2013

While 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 from July 8 – August 4, 2013—focuses on librarianship and the staff who make libraries what they are, we really can’t dive into that rich field of study without first looking at the public and civic nature of libraries (and other spaces)—a theme Lankes addresses in his book The Atlas of New Librarianship.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoAs is the case with much of what Lankes provides in the book and in the course, new librarianship reaches far beyond those working in or for libraries. Often focusing on the training-teaching-learning roles that librarians and libraries have long assumed, the course and book are a rich source of exploration for anyone involved in facilitating the learning process for learners of any age. And in a particularly fascinating passage, Lankes also steps back long enough to explore what he perceives to be the difference between “public” and “civic” spaces—a theme of interest to anyone who cares about and becomes involved in community development, collaboration, and partnerships (within or outside of libraries and librarianship).

“A public space is not truly owned. It is an open space,” Lankes writes (p. 65). “A civic space [e.g., a library], on the other hand, is a regulated space on behalf of the public. That means it is beholden to a whole raft of policy and law. A group can gather in a public space. They have to have permission to do so in a civic space, and that permission must be given in an equitable and nondiscriminatory way.”

While the distinction that Lankes offers provides plenty of room for exploration, it also addresses an almost vanished concept in a world where nearly every space is civic in the sense that it is under observation by citizens via cell phones and video cameras as well as by outright government surveillance and regulation, as is obvious to anyone thinking about how regulated public gatherings are at events ranging from national political party conventions to barbecues in public parks. Even our city, regional, state, and national parks are more “civic” than “public” under this definition when we think about how tightly regulated they are: they are treated almost as if they are living museums, where artifacts are meant to be preserved and where we are discouraged (for good reason) from removing plant specimens or even picking and eating wild berries, and permits are needed for overnight camping so that they have moved beyond that “public” unregulated state of existence.

Altas_New_Librarianship--CoverAnd yet there is far-reaching value in considering what Lankes says of libraries as civic rather than public spaces, for it carries over into so many other aspects of daily life that includes, but goes far beyond, what libraries, librarianship, and librarians (as well as other members of library staff) provide and inspire within communities: the aforementioned development of community, the fostering of collaboration, and the creation and nurturing of partnerships that produce far more as “civic” efforts than could ever be accomplished without the organized efforts that accompany the best of civic endeavors.

Lankes and those of us taking the New Librarianship Master Class are engaged in discussions about that precise library/librarianship topic at one significant and obvious level, but engagement at that level need not restrain us from taking the larger view of civic engagement that accompanies our collaborative explorations. When we become involved in projects along the lines of the volunteer-driven community-based Hidden Garden Steps project in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District—an effort to transform a public space into a civic space through the creation and installation of a 148-step ceramic-tile mosaic, public gardens, and murals—we agree to work with all the various partners who are stakeholders in that space: neighbors; existing nonprofit organizations; local government employees and elected officials; and numerous others whose interests have already moved that public space into the civic realm.

Community organizers struggle together—just as librarians and other members of library staff struggle—to define community/civic needs and goals; to work together to bring these evolving dreams to fruition; to create moments of acknowledgement and celebration to mark whatever successes we have; and to recognize that civic development is never a one-time start-to-finish endeavor. There is always something new to consider, something new upon which we can seek areas of agreement and coordinated action; and something we can nurture in response to changing circumstances.

That’s the beauty of what all of us do as we attempt to define what is public and what is civic; what libraries are and should be becoming; and what librarianship must include to be successful in meeting the needs of the ever-expanding onsite-online communities it serves. If we think about, respond to, and act upon these ideas of public and civic spaces, and seek the most inclusive group of partners we can identify and attract, our public spaces—libraries included—will continue to serve as civic spaces that reflect our highest aspirations.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


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