Why Do We Do It?

This is the second post on The Atlas of New Librarianship webinar held on 20 September 2012. In the first post I wrote about the need to distinguish libraries from librarians.

Anyone who knows me well will know that I ask a lot of questions about everything. I ask questions because I want to understand. By asking questions I’m attempting to test the robustness of an approach or idea rather than uncover flaws.

So I was absolutely delighted to hear David Lankes encouraging us to think deeper. It’s not something we as librarians do on a regular basis individually, in teams or as a profession; but I think we need to have these conversations at all levels to survive and thrive.

The primary message of the webinar was that we have to get past what we do as librarians and think about why we do it.

  • Why do we have collections?
  • Why do we have reference desks?
  • Why do we have spine labels?
  • Why do we run story times?
  • Why do we provide a learning commons?
  • Why do we have different lending periods for graduates and undergraduates?
  • Why do we shelve dvds separately from books?
  • Why do we open at 9am?

I could go on but I think you get the idea. 🙂

The point of these questions is to enable us to step away from the ‘what’ of librarianship and focus on the ‘why’ of librarianship. It enables us to forget about ebooks, Google, metadata, budget cuts, social media, marketing or whatever the latest threat (or excitement) is, and to think about how it fits with the purpose of your library.

And once you start thinking like this it certainly throws your ‘known world’ into disarray. But it also provides a sense of freedom – the freedom to explore other worlds, the freedom to let go, and the freedom to improve the value of libraries and librarians.

New librarians are perfectly placed to ask these kinds of questions. And those of us who have been around a while need to encourage and provide opportunities for these conversations to occur.