Early in the semester, we spent quite a bit of time laying the theoretical groundwork that underlies the entire library profession. I can’t speak for my classmates, but I found a strange sort of satisfaction in pondering and manipulating these abstract concepts: parsing the difference between data, information, and knowledge, nailing down exactly what a library is anyway (which is actually much more difficult than you might think), and working out whether librarianship can be appropriately labeled a “Profession” on par with the medical profession, legal profession, and so on. However, at the end of the day, most of us agreed to disagree with each other about our conclusions on most of these topics. While thinking about and understanding the elements library science is based on is clearly important, and as much as I got a nerdy kick out of doing it, what we learned and discussed later in the semester is what I will really need to take with me to my first job. Having an understanding of information is important for an information professional of course, but ethical codes and leadership qualities have a much more direct impact on daily decisions and job performance, and I am glad we covered both the theoretical and the practical during this semester.
The aspects of library ethics we discussed in most detail (beat to death may be a bit more apt) were equal access to all varieties of people and the right to privacy of all people. Intellectual freedom and the dangers of censorship also made a strong showing. As a Christian English major and Library Science student growing up in what sometimes feels like the only conservative pocket in all of Southeast Michigan, I understand the tensions between wanting people to have uninhibited access to information and wanting to protect people, especially children, from harmful information. These are discussions that I’ve had at home, at church, and in class my whole life. As a future (hopefully) children’s librarian in a public library, these will be discussions I will continue to have for a very long time. I will have to explain why the library can not ban unpleasant people. I will have to explain why the library can not act in loco parentis. Having the opportunity to hash out the arguments, rationales, and words needed to have these conversations now in a low stakes situation will serve me will in the future.
In the convergence of discussing these ethical considerations and the celebration of Banned Book Week, I received some inspiration. As part of Banned Book Week, I wrote a review of the banned book A Clockwork Orange, and liked it so much I wanted to continue doing that in some way. (I just spent the last four years of my life doing literary analysis, so the familiarity of such a project was much like coming home after an extended absence.) Although it is frustrating to see parents vilify books they haven’t read based on a word of paragraph they heard about from someone else, I do recognize parents’ right to have a say in what their children are exposed to and realize that most parents don’t have the time to read or research all the books they’ve heard bad rumors about that their kids want to read. So, I am planning to start a blog where I read and review controversial kids’ and YA books by commenting on the book as a whole, covering the elements that might be objectionable or more appropriate for a particular age within the context of the whole story in order to help parents make informed decisions about what their kids are or aren’t ready to read instead of making knee-jerk reactions. I won’t say in my reviews whether parents should or shouldn’t keep their kids from reading a book, but rather give an opinion of the literary merit and the content that can allow parents to make decisions based on their own values and the maturity levels of their children. I haven’t settled on a start date for this project yet, but I am planning to begin within the next year, even though new posts will be sporadic while I’m still in school.
It’s impossible to cover everything I learned this semester that will influence my future career. These are just a couple things that stand out to me from my current position. I’ll end by circling back to a point I made during one of our more abstract discussions on what is a library and a librarian after discussing the increasing role of the library as a community center in addition to a repository of information:
The people in the library are not simply librarians (and any other resident experts) and patrons, but also all members of the same community. Of course the expertise of the librarians is important, but I think that thinking of oneself less as an expert and more as a fellow community member with the people one helps provides a good basis for the treating all patrons in the ways librarians are ethically required to do so.
I guess theorizing can have some practical applications, too. Here’s to thinking well and carefully about why we do what we do, and what that means for how we do what we do.