Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Libraries gave us power...

This is pretty much what I envisage working in a Canadian Library would be like...

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House is a neoclassical building that straddles the international border in Quebec and Vermont. The Opera House opened on June 7, 1904, and was deliberately built on the border between Canada and the United States. It was declared a heritage building by both countries in the 1970s. A thick black line runs beneath the seats of the opera house and diagonally across the center of the library's reading room to mark the international boundary. Today, the library has two different entrances (one from each country), and hence, two different addresses. Exiting the library through the opposite entrance requires one to report to the country's customs thereafter. [Wikipedia] Found and photographed by @todseelie. #haskelllibrary #internationalborder #curiousity #explore #adventure #amazing #wanderlust #neverstopexploring #photooftheday #picoftheday #travel #wonder #mytinyatlas #adventure #travel #travelingram #atlasobscura #hidden
A photo posted by Atlas Obscura (@atlasobscura) on

Stereotypes aside (because we all know how much librarians enjoy stereotypes), one of the fascinating parts of working in librarianship / information management abroad is observing the various cultural attitudes to organising, seeking and accessing information. And much of this is tied up with the local attitudes to authority and power.

Whilst I come from a background where we value transparency and open access as a way of removing barriers, others value the scarcity of some information, and the leverage available to those who wield it. The old idea that books should be locked away, lest those who are not worthy are exposed to them, are extended to electronic files. Or they see information as having a commercial value - if it can be organised into marketable knowledge products, then they will make a tidy profit.

As information becomes more accessible and abundant, it is that scarce knowledge that becomes the real information commodity. It's not necessarily something that I've considered at depth in Australia - I guess I've always come to appreciate information as something that's ubiquitous and open, and libraries do wonders as a great disseminator and equaliser. However, it's these rare commodities that libraries hold that are also important. Whether it's the magic of witnessing a unique ancient manuscript first-hand, or getting the first copy of a popular author's upcoming novel, or being responsible for handling strictly confidential information. In a manner of speaking, libraries do give us power, by the way of knowledge. So, by that token, with great libraries comes great responsibility.