Friday 3 June 2022

Blogjune Day 3 - Teach them well and let them lead the way.

Day three's #junequestion is a doozy: What is the most important thing to teach new librarians?

Continuing yesterday's retro musical interlude, let me set the mood...

Maybe Whitney Houston is onto something. Perhaps the most important thing to teach new librarians is to learn to love themselves - the greatest love of all - but probably not.

So back to the question. This feels like a variant on the usual, 'What's something you wish they'd taught you in library school?' or 'What new things do new librarians need to learn as part of their training?' After all, it's an ever-changing field, and we need to lean into that change.

In terms of the most important thing? My feeling is that it comes down to the principles and ethics that are at the heart of the profession.

There's one in particular that strikes a chord with me, above all others: The understanding that libraries are not neutral.

To be honest, I've always had an issue with this phrase - not the underlying message, but the way that it's presented, in opposition to the traditional idea that libraries should be neutral.

We don't identify with what we're not, but rather by what we are. So we need to start accepting that libraries are inherently political. And so are librarians.

To facilitate access to culture, knowledge and information in society is a political action.

To decide which information does and does not go into your collection is a political action.

To set guidelines on which groups can and can't use your library spaces is a political action.

To decide which cultural festivals you do and don't celebrate in your library is a political action.

To waive or uphold a library fine is a political action.

To choose which words you use to describe your collections is a political action.

To decide the terms by which people can or can't enter your library space is a political action.

To manage your library teams - and the ways you support them through pandemics, restructures and ever-changing times - is a political action.

To decide which collections you digitise and make available to the world online - and which collections you don't - is a political action.

And so on.

As much as librarians claim that they are no longer exhibit gatekeeper behaviour with your collections - you still do. All the time. And it makes a difference.

Libraries are political. Library work is political. Librarians are political.

New librarians need to realise this, and ask themselves: How will you choose to behave in your day-to-day duties, knowing that your actions will have a political impact on your library community, and the ways that they access information, gain knowledge and build their worldviews.

What could be more important than that?

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