Behind the Scene #2

Jared Criswell
Jared Criswell

Behind the Scene #2

Greetings, Dear Reader!

Presumably, you read Behind the Scene #1, and you know I’m about to drop a figurative info bomb on you. Let’s explore an example of what you can get out of library school.

Perhaps weirdly, library school isn’t the only way you can learn to be a librarian. A ton of stuff can be learned on the job, which is why it’s so highly recommended to volunteer and snag entry level positions to get your chops. But library school does give you the context of a few thousand years of librarianship to understand what’s going on.Ancient Library Sketch

What kind of context? As with other disciplines, library & information science stands on the shoulders of its less politically correct forebears back in the 1800s, when Lewis & Clark were eating mercury to settle their stomachs. In fact, librarians were keeping scrolls in cubbies thousands of years ago, when we were sweetening wine with lead! 

Sensing a theme? Well, we have had goofy ideas about librarianship at times. One infamous example is Samuel Swett Green’s article, “Personal Relations Between Librarians and Readers.” (Green was one of the founders of the American Library Association, for what it’s worth.) Green, way back in ye olde 1876, a good year I’m told, said stuff like this about what librarians ought to do: “I am confident that . . . a great influence can be exerted in the direction of causing good books to be used.” (My bolding.)

Good books?! What is a “good book,” exactly? He goes on to say this: “If an applicant would cease to consult [the librarian] unless she gives him a sensational novel, I would have her give him such a book. Only let her aim at providing every person who applies for aid with the best book he is willing to read.” (My bolding again.)

Samuel Swett GreenCan you believe the nerve of this guy? Are your elitism hackles up? Well, set down your pitchforks and torches. You’ve been bamboozled. Green is actually an example of an early library & information science progressive! How can that be?

Well, he advocated for getting out from behind the desk and serving the common person! (The fancy library science term for that is “inter-mediation,” which will no doubt come up again in later posts. I reserve the right to quiz you so you can share in my grad student anguish.) I’m going to allow myself a block quote to drive this point home. This is Green’s third library “commandment,” pulled from the same article:

One of the best means of making a library popular is to mingle freely with its users, and help them in every way. When this policy is pursued for a series of years in any town, a very large portion of the citizens receive answers to questions, and the conviction spreads through the community that the library is an institution of such beneficent influences that it can not be dispensed with.

Sound familiar? And as if that wasn’t enough, Green encourages librarians to “receive investigators with something of the cordiality displayed by an old-time inn-keeper.” That’s pretty darn wholesome. Even if he was a bit misguided about “good” books, and even if he judged you extensively before you could even get to his desk, he was moving librarianship in the right direction. 

I’ll leave you with a choice tidbit for next time. Here’s a problem: what happens when people bypass librarians and check out an eBook without asking for help at all? How can librarians add any value if people skip us altogether? Will the librarianship of the future be about making sure your eBook checks out with the fewest number of mouse clicks? Did we really land on the moon?

Stay tuned for more! It’s finals week in my time zone, so I need to go sacrifice all of my free time to the dark lord of library science.

Your sleep-deprived library student, Jared