Recently a group of librarians got together and created a library manifesto called the Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians.
On March 26th, Darien Library hosted an event called “In the Foothills: A Not-Quite-Summit on the Future of Libraries” at which participants were instructed to “come prepared to help sketch out the role librarians should play in defining the future of libraries”. The two speakers, John Berry and Kathryn Greenhill, provoked a conversation among me, Kathryn and Cindi Trainorthat began in my office the next day and spilled out across the ensuing week.
Below is the resulting document (CC License). It’s meant to be grand, optimistic, obvious, and thankful to and for our users, communities, and the tireless librarians who work the front lines every day, upholding the purpose of the Library.
And so, the group came up with a set of principles.
The Purpose of the Library:
The purpose of the Library is to preserve the integrity of civilization.
The Library has a moral obligation to adhere to its purpose despite social, economic, environmental, or political influences. The purpose of the Library will never change.
The Library is infinite in its capacity to contain, connect and disseminate knowledge; librarians are human and ephemeral, therefore we must work together to ensure the Library’s permanence.
Individual libraries serve the mission of their parent institution or governing body, but the purpose of the Library overrides that mission when the two come into conflict.
Why we do things will not change, but how we do them will.
A clear understanding of the Library’s purpose, its role, and the role of librarians is essential to the preservation of the Library.
While I applaud the group for having a discussion about all of this, I must admit I have a few issues with the resulting statements about the purpose of the library. “The purpose of the Library is to preserve the integrity of civilization.” Seriously? Preserve the integrity of civilization?? First of all, what does that mean? Secondly, it confers a grandiose and superior purpose to an institution that at its core is grounded and – in the case of public libraries – meant for the common man.
In my mind, libraries do two main things: 1) collect stuff and 2) organize it so it can be found and used. A codicil might be that we make stuff available for whomever wants to use it.
It certainly can be argued that when information in whatever form is sequestered or limited or banned outright, it’s not a good thing. In fact, the first thing a fascist government will do in order to gain control of its people is restrict access to information. I’m assuming that it’s this library function that the writers were considering when saying that libraries preserve the integrity of civilization. But I would argue that to state it in that way clouds the issue and uses the kind of language that sets up an adverse reaction.
We struggle mightily with our profession. I’ve written before on how interesting it is that we wring our hands and wonder endlessly whether we’re being taken seriously enough. Unfortunately, I think statements such as these are more likely to elicit eye-rolling from the general public rather than a serious understanding of what we’re about and why we’re essential.
The group concludes with the librarians:
As librarians, we must:
- Promote openness, kindness, and transparency among libraries and users.
- Eliminate barriers to cooperation between the Library and any person, institution, or entity within or outside the Library.
- Choose wisely what to stop doing.
- Preserve and foster the connections between users and the Library.
- Harness distributed expertise to serve the needs of the local and global community.
- Help individuals to learn and to use new tools to create a more robust path to knowledge.
- Engage in activism on behalf of the Library if its integrity is externally threatened.
- Endorse procedures only if they guide librarians or users to excellence.
- Identify and implement the most humane and efficient methods, tools, standards and practices.
- Adopt technology that keeps data open and free, abandon technology that does not.
- Be willing and have the expertise to make frequent radical changes.
- Hire the best people and let them do their job; remove staff who cannot or will not.
- Trust each other and trust the users.
I like these. Love the elimination of barriers.
I don’t mean to be disparaging about what this group did, as it’s always a good thing when people get together and hash these things out. I tend towards the more common rather than the ethereal, hence my issues with some of the language and positions taken. (I have similar issues with most mission statements. ) Let’s keep talking….