I am proud to announce that I have been appointed as a Visiting Researcher to ENSSIB (École Nationale Supérieure des Sciences de l’Information et des Bibliothèques), the national library school in France. Previous Visitors include: Marie Martel, professeur et bibliothécaire à l’université de Montréal and Michael Buckland, Professor Emeritus at the University of California Berkeley’s School of Information.
This year I’ll be working virtually with faculty and students to organize some master classes on the topic of post-neutrality librarianship and some other projects. Thanks to ENSSIB director Nathalie Marcerou-Ramel and to Raphaëlle Bats for this amazing opportunity. I can only hope enough folks get vaccinated for me to actually travel to Lyon in the fall.
To prevent confusion, this is in addition to my current position as professor and director of the iSchool at the University of South Carolina.
On January 22nd Publisher’s Weekly published on OpEd of mine in their Soapbox. It was based on a longer piece I wrote on Facebook. Here is the longer version.
On January 6th insurrectionists invade the Capital in Washington DC to attempt to subvert the will of the American people by attempting to overturn the presidential election. They did so after a morning, and indeed, months of instigation founded on misinformation, false grievance, and a climate that increasingly defines politics as a pursuit of power over the judicious use of power at the behest of the people.
It has taken me several days to begin to make sense of this, to get over my anger, and to affirm for myself a way forward. For me, as an information scientist; as a director of an academic program that prepares librarians and information professionals; as an author and speaker, the way forward is clear: we must rebuild the civic and educational structures that bring communities together.
This is not a shocking conclusion. One could even rightly say it is a self-serving one. After all, as a scholar, educator, and author I am invested in the success of these institutions. However, I am invested because I continue to see their value and positive transformational potential.
I am invested because I have seen when libraries break out of the artificial bounds of collections and neutrality, they become instruments of community cohesion. I have seen libraries host difficult conversations on race. I have seen libraries bring together a people on issues of immigration. I have seen libraries fight for the poor, and the incarcerated, and the all too forgotten in attempts to remove the alien nature of neighbors. From drag queen story hours, to human libraries, to simply providing a collection that captures the value and richness of the human experience, our public libraries must continue to weave together a fragmented social fabric one person, one neighborhood, one nation at a time.
I am invested because I have not only seen for myself, but read study after study on the power school librarians in the education of our youth. I have seen dedicated educators in out school’s largest and most inclusive classrooms, school libraries, make a safe space for the marginalized. I have seen school librarians go beyond the limits of testing to engage children in true inquiry and spark the passion for learning. I have seen school libraries with books and makerspaces, and hydroponic gardens, and talent shows, and whole programs give students status and meaning in an education system all too often focused on outcomes and curricular standards. And I have seen school librarians from the cities and the states again and again and again sound the alarm that literacy in this era must be more than reading and arithmetic but understanding and the ability to interrogate messages and claims in the media, on the net, and in the very conversations we have as a nation. Alas, I have also too often seen these heroes and their programs cut based on the false premise that the only learning that occurs in a school is tied to a textbook.
I am invested because I have seen academic libraries and archivists not simply preserve our cultural heritage, but make it accessible and meaningful to their universities, and the world at large. I have seen stewards of the record of our history, with a degree, or without, force us all to honestly acknowledge a past of racism, bigotry, exclusion, and authoritarianism that does not simply inform our present, but is part of our present mechanisms of systemic racism and political ideologies. I have seen medical librarians ensure that today’s front-line health workers are prepared to face the savage reality of COVID and the savage reality of non-critical thinkers that dismiss science for adherence to political messaging. I have seen academic librarians dedicate themselves to prepare college students of this nation to do actual research, embracing Google and social media, but also the scholarly record, and the foment of investigation.
I am invested because I have seen the power of the information professional, the IT worker, the social media strategist, the data scientist when they are prepared with the ethical skills to complement their technical ones. I have seen the IT manager and the business process analysts ensure that we never see our fellow citizens as simply consumers or dopamine triggered users, but rather as human beings. Human beings that at their core seek safety and certainty and meaning in their lives – and when an unjust society deprives them of means of engaging in the democracy and the economy, they have no choice but to turn to demagogues who mask narcissism in patriotism, and self-interest in twisted visions of greatness.
The future of this nation is not the sole property of a political party. The future of this nation is in the capabilities and education of its citizens. Again and again and again we see that when “enemies” come together in honest and civil conversations – when they are exposed to “the other”- they find commonality. It is too easy to hate through a screen, particularly when the person on the other end may not be a person at all.
My own work seeks to better understand the role of librarians in society. As part of that I have come to the conclusion that there is no neutrality in the work of information. All views are not equal, all visions for the future are not the same nor must they presented in an unbiased or equal fashion. A vision of the future where elections are overturned by the group most willing to tear down social norms and resort to violence is not as valid as a future where righteous protest over inequity are protected. A future where profit drives national narratives and is preferred over community forums of civic engagement is not the right future. A future where libraries and schools are restricted to providing only a prepackaged version of “objective belief,” must be rejected. In its place we must all embrace and prepare for a complex world where human desire for meaning must temper a baser desire for power and exclusion.
I am invested in the success of libraries, and schools, and academia because I believe they are the essential social infrastructure to move us past the dark actions of January 6th. I ask that we all invest in them and ensure our voices are heard and our democracy strengthened. I am not asking us all to magically agree, but to agree that it is through debate and seeking fair and equitable mechanisms (elections, governance, education) that we will be great. And I am asking us all to acknowledge that we are not there yet. I am asking us to invest not in a person or a party, but in our neighbors whatever their color, or whoever they love, or however they identify themselves.
I also acknowledge that I am making this request from a place of privilege and economic stability. I am making this request on lands taken from indigenous people, and I am asking for peaceful revision to a system that all too often used violent means to suppress people of color.
This country was founded with the following words:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
These words were a mission, not a statement of fact. It was the starting point…we did not form a perfect Union, we formed a government to seek one out. We, as a nation, a colonizing power, a slave owning nation, an imperfect collection of very fallible human beings, put in writing not some statement of success, but of aspiration. An aspiration that we MUST continue today. WE ARE NOT A PERFECT UNION. We will never be a perfect union because the definition of such a thing will change with the advent of new understandings of physics that can enlighten or build bombs; with new medical capabilities that both save lives and bankrupt those unable to pay for them; with new understandings of sexuality and gender that can both liberate and evoke fearful condemnation; and, yes, with new technology that can connect mankind and allow the worst of our human nature to seek out its peers.
I am invested in seeking out a more perfect union, and believe such a pursuit begins with equitable education, information, and conversation.
THRILLED to announce apps are open for a school library research + teaching fellowship at the University of South Carolina iSchool. Get your PhD and impact our profession as a school library professor! Study/research with scholars that make up the best school library program in the country.
Applications are open for school library research and teaching fellowship
The discipline of school librarianship is continually enriched by strong partnerships between research and practice. At the University of South Carolina School of Information Science, the development of research and scholarship that investigates the structural and societal inequalities impacting school librarianship and K-12 education is a key initiative. The School Library Research and Teaching Fellowship Program aims to fund a student who is committed to development as a school library researcher and educator.
The iSchool at the University of South Carolina Doctoral Program
This research-intensive degree prepares student scholars for careers at universities, research centers and private businesses. Our students distinguish themselves in advancing the ways people and organizations create and use information.
Our students demonstrate excellence in:
Nurturing critical and reflective thinking on the fundamental problems related to using information.
Fostering an environment of successful mentoring.
Preparing scholars who are passionate about the role of information in human affairs.
Fostering cross-disciplinary thinking with research and academic expectations.
Mastering the literature and practices in the broad field of information science.
Developing in-depth knowledge in their specialty field.
Developing profound skills of synthesis and analysis of research.
In addition to all standard Ph.D. application requirements, School Library Research and Teaching Fellowship applicants must hold an MLIS from an ALA-accredited institution and have a minimum of three years of experience as a school librarian in a United States K-12 school. Preference will be given to applicants who promote diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, and differently abled representation in school library education.
Expectations and Funding
The school library program at the University of South Carolina is a nationally recognized preparation program for school librarians, ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the number 5 school library certification program in the nation. Our fully online, 36-credit hour program is the only school library program in South Carolina preparing students nationwide. The large majority of our students are classroom teachers, and our enrollment has seen a 44.5 percent increase from 2017 to 2020. School library faculty are internationally recognized educators and researchers who currently oversee federally funded research and training efforts through the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Library of Congress.
The School Library Research and Teaching Fellow will be expected to participate in a robust preparation program for school library education and research, teaching two classes per semester under the supervision of school library faculty for the first two years of the award. In the third year, the recipient will participate in school library research efforts in preparation for a career as a school librarianship focused LIS scholar. The award provides training in online higher education course design and delivery, and three years of guaranteed funding; two years as a Graduate Student Teaching Assistant, and one year as a dedicated Research Fellow. The recipient of this award will also receive a healthcare stipend, full tuition for up to 18 hours per academic year, and a $30,000 a year stipend, with the option to apply for additional years of funding if needed.
Fall 2021 Ph.D. applications in Library and Information Science for the School Library Research and Teaching Fellowship are currently open. To be considered for admission, prospective student scholars should complete the following by March 1, 2021:
I sent the following message this morning to the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the iSchool here at South Carolina.
I am writing you from my office in Davis Hall. It is the morning of January 11 – the first day of classes for the Spring ’21 semester. Right now, I’m the only one here, a result of the reality around the pandemic. This semester we have no in person classes – though we will be setting up a regular in-person undergraduate joint study session soon. This semester we continue to adapt to a global pandemic.
I also have to admit, that after the events of January 6 in the U.S. Capitol Building, I was not anxious to have a government building unattended. It is frankly horrifying that in classes where we are studying the global realities of the pandemic, the historic Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice, and the effects of the economic realities of the pandemic on communities, we must add armed insurrection. And yet, here we are. Our faculty, staff, students, and alumni are suffering and attempting to come to terms with a world that seems out of control.
In college I had a professor who taught an evening class. He said how he always loved teaching evening courses in the Spring because they would begin the semester in darkness, and by the end light would fill the classroom as summer approached. We too can see ourselves at the beginning of this semester in the darkness of winter, and we are seeking out the light. However, it won’t be a matter of simply waiting for the Earth to turn on its axis, but rather through action. We bring about the light by embracing our mission at the iSchool: to bring meaning and justice to communities through information and knowledge.
We do this through our teaching. We share the skills and foundations for how organizations use information resources in serving people in ethical ways. We teach librarians, web designers, business analysts, future faculty, and future information professionals. This teaching, really a partnership of learning, continues to mesh skills with perspective and highlighting all of our commitment to a more just and equitable society.
We do this through research, discovering new aspects of the human condition in a world of connection, data, and information resources.
We do this in our K-12 classrooms as school librarians empowering our youth with critical literacy skills and a sense of passion for continuous learning.
We do this in public institutions – public libraries, government departments, and as citizens engaging in the democratic process – by ensuring transparency, by building knowledge platforms empowering citizens to find meaning, and by constantly refreshing, reifying, and reinvesting in democracy itself. Democracy, as we know, doesn’t live in documents and laws, but in the common commitment of the governed to seek out the community good.
We do this in universities and archives. We not only preserve the past, but ensure that a living past is not forgotten and informs our future. We provide vital support to scholars and faculty taking on the pandemic, on issues of systemic racism, and inventing new technologies.
We do this in business, academia, schools, colleges, government, and in our neighborhoods.
This past week, and indeed this past year, have seen dark times. They are getting darker. COVID cases are rising, innocent Black citizens still face unequal justice, our fellow Americans and my fellow citizens of the world are losing jobs and the security of a home. It is easy, and even understandable, that in the face of overwhelming challenges we feel lost, or hopeless, or alone. You are not alone. For 50 years this school has sought to build and empower a community – a network of professionals dedicated to bringing light to the darkness of ignorance.
Through collections, and computers, and social media, and data mining, we have been part of a half century preparation for just this time. We send out a kickass chicken into the most under-resourced schools of the state to encourage literacy. We manage libraries – engine of innovation and service in San Francisco, Vermont, Santa Barbara, Charleston, Columbia, Lexington, Oxford and throughout the world, and we will continue to do so. We have alumni in DC and insurance agencies, state government, and startups that are part of a network committed to a better tomorrow. We are woven throughout the fabric of the nation, and now is the time for us to pull together and bring the light.
If you need support, encouragement, or simply someone to listen, please reach out. And if you have the strength, reach out to your fellow students, your fellow alumni, and show them we are together.
I know we will have a strong and successful semester. That, however, is not enough. We must ensure that we have a strong and successful nation. Let us bring the light.
One of my favorite parts of the school year is the hooding we do for newly minted MLIS grads in the spring and fall. I’ve gotten into a tradition of giving one last little lecture at each. I created a video of this year’s for those who couldn’t make it, and am sharing it widely.
First the video, then the script.
Congratulations on this great step into your future… we just have time for one last little lecture. Because this moment is no doubt not how you imagined it. A zoom’ed hooding was not a normal thing just a year ago.
And that’s what I’d like to talk about – what is normal. Because like it or not, it is a question that will be at the center of your job for the next several years. In your classes you have been taught skills to organize information, to find information, to use information to help people find meaning in their lives and for communities to make smarter decisions. All of those skills, however, are ultimately about creating normality. How the world organizes itself, the data it collects about its operations and the choices it makes based on that data is what we come to see as normal.
Things that we take as par for the course today – opinion polls, economic numbers, credit scores – are information creations of the past century. And we see the often grim new normal of data and collected information being formed around us today: positivity rates, mortality numbers, public acceptance of disinformation. This information can be used to enlighten such as exposing the outsized effect of the pandemic on communities of color. How information is organized and disseminated can also be used to blind: attacks on our very democracy masked as benign legal maneuvers.
Make no mistake, what is and will be normal, is a choice. Not just a choice as to what people expect or accept, but in what you will do and advocate for. It is the librarians, information professionals, educators, data analysts, and researchers that you are now that will shape the new normal. It is your unique combination of skills and ethical center that must fight disinformation and reweave the connective tissue of our communities and our very democracy.
You will do this person by person, neighbor by neighbor, student by student. You will do this by never accepting that people – children, mothers, brothers, flawed and glorious all – can be reduced to a stream of data or flattened to consumers. You will do this through difficult conversations in person and in print and in Zoom. Conversations on race, on ideology, on the very nature of truth. You will do this not by being neutral, but by being transparent and an example of knowledge informed by data and information, but more importantly by your humanity.
Today we celebrate – tomorrow we begin the work of forging a new normal where Black Lives Matter. Where the fate of a student in rural South Carolina is never determined by the zip code of their birth. Where the access to life saving medical treatment is not tied to the size of a bank account, and where borders never limit the span of our imagination or friendship.
This is your last lesson then. The true value of your degree, and your education is never determined by the diploma you receive, but by the communities you improve.
Today is the last day of a semester that often felt like a sprint. We all nervously watched the COVID-19 Dashboard in August and read the stories of pool parties and thought for sure we would close the campus. But the numbers fell, the mitigation procedures worked, and we carried through. The school has had a few close calls, but we remain healthy. As we come out of Thanksgiving and into the holiday season, we do indeed have much for which to be thankful.
We can be thankful for growing applications and enrollments in the MLISprogram. The investments of the past year in our reputation, our curriculum and in marketing the program are paying off. We can be grateful that our BSIS program enrollment has remained steady despite worries of dramatic reductions in on-campus enrollment. And we are seeing our BSIS grads getting high-paying jobs. We can be thankful that our Ph.D. program has just undergone a long developed program policy revision.
And our academic programs have not simply maintained but are growing. We approved significant changes to our gradate certificate, allowing students to get a specialized certificate along with their MLIS. The first specialization is in equity, diversity and inclusion and starts in the spring semester. Development of specializations in public, academic and data science are all underway building on our commitment and continued investment in the school library certification. The faculty also approved the creation of a new joint master’s in data communications with our colleagues in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. This will be the first college-wide joint degree.
We are thankful to begin a search for a new faculty position, focusing on the intersection of race, data, media and society. The new professor will join a faculty with a growing track record in research productivity and funding. This year we have multiple faculty awarded grants from IMLS — including the prestigious Early Career program at IMLS — and the Library of Congress.
New efforts in public scholarship like a podcast and regular column with Publishers Weekly join an impressive array of grants, peer-reviewed articles, book publications and conference participation. According to Academic Analytics, we rank ranked third among our peer iSchools for total number of books published by faculty and fourth in terms of the percentage of a faculty having published a book. That success continues with new projects under contract with MIT Press, Rowman & Littlefield and ALA Editions. And our works have been translated into French, German, Italian, Dutch and Spanish, with Arabic and Chinese on their way.
Our faculty continue to work internationally. We are part of an ERASMUS+ grant in the European Union and a British study for the World Intellectual Property Association. Our faculty have presented at conferences like ALA, ALISE, ASIS&T, the iConference and IFLA. We have presented to bodies such as the Advisory Group for the National Strategy for Public Libraries in Scotland, and the National Library of New South Wales in Australia strategic planning group.
We are thankful for a public scholarship agenda always seeking to increase an already impressive impact within the South Carolina community. Even in a pandemic, the South Carolina Center for Community Literacy has brought Cocky’s Reading Express to thousands of children online, with a mayor, a university president and even “trombone guy” demonstrating the importance of literacy. SCCCL has secured tens of thousands of dollars to continue to distribute books, provide professional development in diversity in literacy, and even deliver mental health training to the citizens of the state.
We can be very proud as well as thankful that this semester we put real action and resources behind the school’s standing commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. The work of the Augusta Baker Endowed Chair, with public lectures and conversations, is joined by new Spectrum scholarshipsto recruit and support diverse MLIS students and the development of new diversity fellowships with the Thomas Cooper Library.
To end this update, let me say how I am personally thankful to be a part of the iSchool community. This age of pandemic, racial awakening, divided politics and an economic downturn has been hard on all of us. Isolation and anxiety exact a toll. We all worry about our loved ones as well as ourselves. Yet through it all I have seen students be resilient. I have seen faculty and staff devoted to student success. And I have seen alumni, students, staff and faculty rededicate themselves to making a better society through knowledge and service.
Each week The Skillset Podcast will feature conversations with librarians and other key players in the information world seeking to illuminate the complex issues facing libraries and other institutions in these unprecedented times. New episodes will post on Fridays and will be featured in Publishers Weekly’s Preview for Librarians e-newsletter
“This podcast began with a problem,” says podcast co-host R. David Lankes. “Here at the University of South Carolina School of Information Science we had just added a course on Community Engagement and Service to the core of our library science degree. And suddenly, in 2020, with the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and a long overdue racial and social justice awakening, everything we thought we knew about the subject went out the window. These massive disruptions have shaken the library world to its core. Libraries have long rested on their virtue, and their connection to the community. And suddenly, libraries were separated from their communities as their physical buildings were forced to close. And as a profession, librarians are finally committing to addressing their own issues, including the legacy of systemic racism, vocational awe, and the safety and well-being of our workers.”
Season One of The Skillset Podcast will focus on libraries in the wake of protests and the pandemic, and will feature conversations with an array of library directors, activists, and educators exploring how libraries are changing to meet the needs of their communities amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the movement for social and racial justice. And each season will be aligned with the academic semester, giving listeners an opportunity to explore the issues and themes being addressed by library science students today.
“This podcast is an amazing opportunity for us to continue building those bridges between theory and practice,” says co-host Nicole A. Cooke. “It is an opportunity for us to connect with library professionals who are actually ‘walking the walk’ and using their expertise to educate our students about the true meaning of community literacy, and to expose new ideas and practices to a wider audience.”
Greetings and thank you for giving me time to talk about the importance of library and place at this unique point in time and moving forward. I have had the good fortune to observe and speak with librarians around the globe, including in Scotland, and see a very bright future ahead for public libraries if we invest now. Libraries have been and will continue to be vital social infrastructure for communities. They provide safe physical and digital spaces for citizens to explore dangerous ideas.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an intimidating prospect thinking about the role of public libraries over the next 5 years. The world is changing, it seems, minute by minute. How do we forecast 5 years ahead? Well, there is good news. It turns out that in this pandemic, the process of evolution in libraries over the past decade have served us well. Today we know the library as a platform, physical and virtual, that helps communities make smarter decisions, and to help citizens find meaning in their lives.
There is a lot I could talk about, and advocate for, around the next 5 years of Scottish public libraries, but for today, let me limit my comments to the library as a place. A place online and on the ground that is part of a community crafting a new normal post pandemic. I start with a sample of how world-class public libraries have begun creating a new normal in communities globally.
In the suburbs of Oslo a branch library acts as a community living room hosting live music and an annual comicon. Meanwhile downtown the new central library has just opened with half the books as the previous main library to make room for meeting rooms, theaters, maker spaces and lecture halls to host community conversations. The role of library as convenors and facilitators of vital conversations comes from the fact that in Norway, as in Finland, the library law mandates public libraries support and promote conversations around democracy.
In Aarhus Denmark the central library has an enormous bell at its center that rings with the birth of every new child in the city. It is an auditory reminder that the library is connected to the citizens from the moment they are born. The librarians have such a strong relationship with their community that there are buildings they simply leave unlocked afterhours – allowing the community use of the library 24 hours a day. The library there is seen not as a place or a building, but as a movement where librarians work with local community organizations and businesses to advance the needs of the community.
Here in the states Seattle, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City have made public libraries the cornerstones of economic and urban revitalization plans.
In Charleston South Carolina the community is turning to the library to help lead the city in increasing diversity, addressing social justice issues, and facilitating a conversation on a more just and equitable future.
Before I go farther, there is a point I cannot overstate – though I will try – all of these places may have beautiful architecture, a fine collection of materials, but none of them would rate a mention without the people that staff them. Librarians, community organizers, volunteers, all are what make a library great.
If all you do in the next 5 years is install WiFi, and loos while adding a few dollars to the collection budget, it will be 5 years wasted. What Scotland needs is a network of connected professionals dedicated to not only serving local needs but connecting local expertise to national aspirations and impacts. We are in the middle of history. Yes, the pandemic, but also a point as a world of growing xenophobic nationalism, a growing wealth gap, racial awakening, and shifting international alliances. An inflection point where democracy being tested. Scotland deserves a public library service that tends to our damaged certainty in the world and one that will knit together a social fabric that uses the diverse brilliance of her citizens to lead the way to a better tomorrow.
That may seem like a tall order, but we know how to make it happen. First, I beg you, do not think of libraries as buildings or collections. Don’t even think of them as originations and institutions. Think of them as platforms.
In technological terms, a platform is a set of functions and systems that are not only integrated tightly together, but can be used to create new services. The internet, for example, is very much a platform. It dictates how data can be shipped around a network, and defines certain features like how much data can be funneled down wires, and how to find a given computer or phone. But on top of that infrastructure, all we think of and love – or hate – about the net is built by the community. Search, social media, video sharing, train ticketing are all services built by the internet community on top of the internet platform. If you get a platform right, you can never anticipate the future, but you make it easy for communities to innovate and meet their own needs.
Now think of the public library. It should be a platform that allows local communities to build a whole host of services and experiences – both digital and physical. From something very traditional like a book group that uses a collection and a physical meeting space; to supporting entrepreneurs with things like 3D printers for prototyping and video studios for marketing their inventions. The value of a library as a platform is not measured in things like books circulated, shelf space allocated, or gate counts, but in the success of the community it supports.
The library platform consists of spaces and online catalogs (which should absolutely be linked together) and services like training. Once again, given the limited time, let me focus on the physical aspects of the public library platform, particularly, as some may question the need for an investment in bricks and mortar in these days of Zoom calls and virtual conferences.
Right outside of Florence Italy is the town of Pistoia. As a bedroom community for a large city, it has grown, and eventually a picturesque renaissance city has become a modern suburb, with no central square or piazza to congregate in. To reconnect the cities residents the city built the San Georgio public library as the new piazza. It had a café, and a large indoor and outdoor space to gather. On the weekends the library sponsors 50 different programs from iron working, to movie discussions, to cooking demonstrations. These programs are not run by the librarians however. They are run by the true collection of any library: the community.
This is the new vital role for librarians: community management. Just as professional librarians maintain, organize, and advise on a collection of books – now they are organizing, advising and connecting the community together. Librarians ensure that people feel welcome in the space, but also challenged to learn and grow. Professional librarians facilitate learning of citizens and the community as a whole.
How librarians do this? By ensuring the library platform is responsive and is truly co-owned by the community. This can and should take very different forms that embrace what is unique about a local community.
The British Library, for example, realized that if the goal of the library in terms of supporting business, was to grow new business, it had to change its physical space. In place of stacks of business books and periodicals, it installed group workspaces. It provided a stage for speakers, and a social space for networking. It filled the space not with stuff, but with specially trained librarians with certifications in business development. It created a mentoring program. These services also extend beyond the physical space and continue even in the current pandemic online.
In Philadelphia a library wanting to support local music within the city sat down and asked musicians what they wanted in a library. The musicians didn’t say more music databases or loanable scores, but two grand pianos on a stage. Musicians seek to perform. While popular bands used the local pubs to network and play, there were no venues for those interested in classical and experimental music. Musicians wanted that venue to be the library.
The plan was to have musicians meet and collaborate and then perform original music at the library. The library then recorded the music and streamed it to the globe. Instead of going to the local library to hear the music of the world, the world could now come to a citizen’s local library to hear them. Libraries around the world are loaning out instruments, and then building recording studios to put the instruments to work. They are becoming publishers of the community sharing the talent of the local globally.
In other communities libraries are using their physical spaces to build community gardens. They are taking the harvests and building farmers markets where there were none, including in food desserts where inner city families don’t have ready access to healthy produce.
In rural areas librarians and the libraries they manage are loaning out fishing poles and working with town elders to create hyperlocal wifi hubs on walking trails to share the history of the region.
All over the globe library buildings are going from quiet buildings with a few loud rooms, to loud buildings with some quiet spaces to read. This isn’t instead of traditional missions in literacy, but to extend that mission. Children find joy and excitement in reading through shared story times. One library even started a yoga reading time for parents and their children. The library also had pop-up story times that weren’t scheduled, they just happened when a critical mass of kids were in the room. Rather than ask the community to conform to the schedule of the library, the library, as all libraries should, shaped itself to the community.
At my university we pack our undergraduate students and the school mascot into a bus and drive to the poorest schools in the state to do read alouds that show all children that reading is the path to a better life. In the Netherlands a maker bus drives from school to school bringing WiFi, 3d printers, laser etchers, and other technologies otherwise unavailable to the students.
The physical space of libraries also ensures the success of the digital. The ALMPub project out of Norway examined the role of physical cultural heritage institutions like libraries and museums in an increasingly digital age. They asked the question – do we still need the physical footprint as government and businesses alike are going all digital with their services. They examined citizen uses of public spaces in Norway, Germany, and as far as Hungry. What they found was that as so much of life, particularly public life, was digitized, people needed physical common spaces more. They needed a place not just for training and service, but to be a community. To be together.
You’ve no doubt felt this same need in these days of COVID. Stuck at home, interacting through screens, cut off from colleagues, we crave connection and time to simply be in the same place at the same time. Now imagine before or after the pandemic when it is not disease that keeps you away, but long hours at multiple jobs, or inadequate access to public transportation that leads to over long commutes, or simply no place to actually go. People don’t want to hang out at the police station, or the fire house, or city hall. What other civic institution is left that can serve all citizens regardless of their income, their race, their religion, or their age? And if you don’t see that place as a library, you expect far too little from your libraries.
Please understand that I am not advocating a laundry list of prescribed hardware, services and floor plans for every library in Scotland. I am proposing the exact opposite. Yoga story hours, music studios, and traveling makerspaces are not going to meet the needs of all communities. What you must do in this five year plan, is to set up what the platform is. Then, local needs and aspirations drive the services on top. Some services built by librarians, but an increasing number built by other community members.
The core of the library platform must be a shared mission. Local libraries are going to look and act very differently – they are going to look and act like the local community. It is the job of the librarians, with a shared mission, to gather the best ideas from across the country, and then contextualize and adapt them to local needs. And that shared mission? The mission of a librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities. Or put more simply – librarians and the libraries they build, make the world better by helping people learn.
How does that play out in real life? Well, take the horror that is this current pandemic. We know this virus has caused change, death and uncertainty throughout the globe. What are we doing to learn from it? Are our libraries gathering local stories, articles, oral histories? When I think about this challenge I think of Tilburg, a town in the Netherlands, that was once a thriving train town.
The citizens of Tilburg built and repaired trains for systems across Europe. Yet as manufacturing shifted to Asia, the train industry all but disappeared. Several years ago Tilburg’s economy was rebounding with a new emphasis on small business startups and education. They decided to turn an abandoned train maintenance warehouse into the new public library.
However, before they laid one new piece of steel, they had pop up events in the warehouse to try different layouts and different programs. They invited the community in. Around the warehouse they set up enormous touch screens with photos and videos showing the history of the train industry in the town. Retired rail workers would come in and tell librarians about where they worked and what they did. The librarians would guide these workers to the touch screens and help them record their story, adding to the history. The building, the place, became a memory palace that the community built and owned. Not just with their tax dollars, but with their life experience.
I will end my remarks today with one final story, and a bit of self-interest. A small community in New Zealand was building a new public library. It was in a neighborhood called Ironwood, named for the fact that 150 years earlier the trees of the region were cut down to run iron foundries. The community wanted to commemorate this past and so on a 3 story interior wall they placed stencils of trees. Then they built a scaffolding allowing the community to climb all three stories. On the scaffolding the library placed buckets of paint mixed with soil from the site. Community members would climb the scaffolding, dip their hands in the paint, and mark a handprint on the wall. When the library was complete the scaffolding and stencil come down and what was left was a mural of a forest made up of the hands of the community.
My family traces its roots back to the McDowalls of the lowlands and the reign of Kind David the first of Scotland. Some of the libraries you are building and planning are on the soil of my ancestors and nothing will make me prouder of my heritage than knowing that Scotland supports a thriving network of public libraries dedicated to learning, rooted deeply in the local community, and with a corps of professional librarians dedicated to healing a people and empowering citizens to dream.
Yesterday was my 2nd transplantiversary. The first thing I would like to do is thank Rebecca Friedman for that term.
You see I used to use, and many do use, the phrase new birthday. After all, my new blood system turned 2 yesterday. But here’s why I am no longer happy to call it a birthday (though I am still welcoming presents). For me it is not a remembrance of when my blood system started, or that some new life that began two years ago. For me it is a time to remember, appreciate, and recognize all those that made this new lease on life possible.
I would not be alive today if it was not for my son whose first day of college was spent face down, anesthetized as 50 probes extracted over a liter of bone marrow. I would not be here without my transplant oncologist Dr. Horwitz, his amazing nurse practitioner Kristi Wiggins, or the entire care team at Duke.
But just as important to my recovery was my wife who was my constant advocate, memory, cheerleader, drill sergeant, and ultimate reason to go on living. Also, my mother who was with me the first week before the transplant, stayed with me for weeks during the transplant, and who, with my step-father Bob, uprooted their life so that my sone Andrew could stay at home, at school, and cared for.
When I unveiled the beautiful cake Nikki Gilbert made for the 2nd anniversary, Andrew, my youngest son, said that this was really a celebration for me and Riley – he didn’t do anything. It was a great opportunity for me to explain just how wrong that statement was. Knowing he was doing well in school, having him send me jokes and memes, knowing what a great man he was growing into was essential to me persevering. I also wanted to acknowledge the toll this took on him. The uncertainty, the stress, the trauma of a parent in with cancer is a very real cost to be paid, and his contribution to that cause is equal with a donor and a doctor.
TO this list I have to add my sister who supported me the whole time and did time as a caretaker. Her life was in the midst of major change, and she took the time to lift me up. This anniversary is very much a remembrance of my work colleagues that covered my responsibilities at the university and advanced the school while I was in treatment. From classes covered, duties accepted, and meals delivered, I can never express how much their support mean to me.
And this support extends to friends and colleagues that sent notes, and cards, and simply let me know that I mattered, and they cared.
A birthday is a time for celebration, a transplantiversary is a time for gratitude and reflection. It is a time to remember earnest talks with my wife about what my funeral arrangements should look like. It is a time to be glad that after months of chemo and treatment I was unable to climb stairs, and now go for (nearly) daily 3 mile walks with my dog. It is a time to be grateful for good health care that paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars and the recommit to advocating for health care for all as a right. It is a time to recognize that cancer will always be a part of my life, has shaped my life, and deepened my appreciation for life.
Celebrating a transplantiversary is an easy thing to do, and I invite you all to join in. Donate blood. Give to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Hug the ones you love. Write a person you know wrestling with cancer just to say you were thinking of them.
I’m sorry I didn’t get a cake big enough for all. But do know that you are in my thoughts and you have my thanks. Next year we’ll celebrate outside of our house and without masks.