By choice or circumstance, librarians are social activists, and with this comes responsibility.
Su Epstein Author Archive
Su Epstein holds a doctorate in Sociology from the University of Connecticut and began her career teaching Criminology, before changing careers to Libraryland. She is currently the Library Director at Saxton B. Little Free Library in Columbia, CT. Su is currently reading Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz.
An expert is generally considered someone with extensive knowledge or experience in a given area. But in today’s society of information available instantly at one’s fingertips, literally, the concept and role of the expert has shifted. Still, many people desire expert advice and actively seek out others outside their circle for confirmation or information.
With budget cuts plaguing my state, discussions have arisen over Interlibrary Loan, more specifically, the feasibility of delivering requested items from one location to another. The bottom line: This service is expensive. It is no surprise the discussion got heated and started to reflect the sometimes petty biases and politics of large groups. The conversation also reflects a fundamental divide that occurs across many competitive organizations: the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
This week, the children’s librarian and I were on all fours trying to secure a shelf. The little metal gadget that was supposed to fit snugly in the adjustable shelving holes had instead made the hole larger. As a result, the weight of the shelf was continually pulling the gadget out of its hole. After a brief conference, we wrapped a layer of electrical tape around the tiny nub of the gadget, increasing its size just enough for it to fit snugly. At least until we replace the book case. “We’ve MacGyvered another one,” my colleague sighed as we assessed our work. I thought, I wonder if people would see us differently if they realized how often what we do is “MacGyvering.”
Due to a renovation project for some much needed building repairs, my library was forced to temporarily relocate. Our approximately 65,000-item collection was reduced to a little over 4,000 available items. We left our 4,900 square foot space to set up temporary residence in approximately 300 square feet. The transition process took four weeks. We hired a company to pack our collection for storage, but all other packing, including what we were moving or needed accessible was done by staff. We are now settled in and hope to return home in the fall.
I would argue that going door-to-door for any reason is an inherent danger. After all, canvassing rules say to never go inside the house, try not to be alone, and disengage immediately if you sense anything amiss. Many locations require those going door-to-door to register and carry a government ID card to identify you as legitimate Some places ban the practice altogether citing safety concerns, for both those inside the house and outside.
Back when I was in school settings, first as teacher and later as librarian, I greatly adored the publication Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. When I left educational institutions and entered the public library system, my commitment to issues of diversity, equality, and justice remained strong. Over the years in the public library, I have struggled with how to continue to “teach tolerance” while not in the role of “teacher.” I have tried to pursue these values in different ways for not only the public but also for the staff and my library board. For my community, I have engaged these concepts through collection development, displays, and programming. For staff, I have provided both formal professional development opportunities and informal discussion on the distinctions between difference and danger. For the library board, I’ve crafted policy to support these values and explained the importance of being conscious of these issues and implementing policy.
Before I started working in libraries, I taught research methods (and statistics) for over a decade to undergraduate and graduate students. I conducted my own research in the field of social science, presenting it at conferences and in publications. I currently assist two different library publications in their peer review process. I actually like research and statistics. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed an increase in focus on research in library circles. As it has become more necessary to focus on outcomes, progress, and effects–rather than simply usage—research projects have become a focal point. I think this is a worthwhile trend.
For me, the discussion raised another issue: is the library’s obligation to the existing demographics of the community or to a more diversified perspective? Specifically, consider collection development, programming, and displays. Should we offer only that which applies to our known community’s demographics? Or should we try to broaden outlooks and horizons? Many times our decisions in these areas are shaped by our users. We might put up a holiday display because we believe our community expects or supports that perspective. But are we sure? Should we, in fact, be displaying alternative views as part of an obligation to support lifelong learning? Would we draw more users if we expanded beyond our perceived local culture? Is this not part of obligation, also? While it may be easy to say we should do both–support our community’s demographics and expand on the status quo–the finances and/or politics of many libraries may not allow for such a broad spectrum of activities or materials.
Sadly, abuse and neglect exist everywhere. In some states, librarians are mandated reporters, and they get training and develop relationships with trained state personnel. In other places, the librarian’s view is moot. Should librarians everywhere be mandated reporters? I think so.
For a while we have heard a great deal about STEM. STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This focus has understandably trickled down to the public library. While I support and see the value in the STEM disciplines, I must point out that a stem without flowers is pretty bleak. It is only through diverse and well-rounded education that true advancement can be made. Aesthetic and creative disciplines are as valuable as science and math. A liberal arts education still has value. It concerns me that as a culture we seem to be abandoning humanities and arts for science and technology, rather than trying to maintain a healthy balance.
With the increase of internet searches and the dwindling of Reference Librarian positions, have we lost the art of focus?
For those operating on a June year end fiscal year, the finish line is in sight. We are cleaning up our records, gathering our data, and readying our reports. It is Statistics Season. Every year I hear the same thing from someone: ‘statistics lie.’
As budgets shrink, the quest for quality grows. A while ago my library surveyed patrons about their preferences and how they wanted to see materials collections develop. One item that arose much to my surprise was the request for hard copy periodicals “with substance.” The food and craft titles were fine, but people commented they wanted to see less gossip and more content.
You’ve applied for a job and gotten the exciting call that the library wants to interview you! You’ve done your research. You’ve ironed your clothing. You stand tall and spend a few hours answering questions, perhaps going on a tour. You’re told they hope to make a decision quickly and they’ll be in touch within the next couple of weeks.