12 November 2007

Librarians as Heroes of Culture

Since coming back from Italy last week (and yes, it was a wonderful trip), I have been struggling to come up with a blog post. I went to the board meeting at the Fletcher Free and was thankful, yet again, that I was in an academic library (largely because I don't have the patience to deal with such funding fiascos). Yes, I am eagerly reading Elaine's posts about iDMAa and am sad, though not sorry, that I could not attend their conference last week. No matter how great it was, Puglia was better.

But nothing felt worth posting about.

And then....tonight, over dinner, I was reading the Sunday NYT Book Review and came across this review for "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read." But the review could be called "Why Librarians are Amazing." Jay McInerney, whose book on wine I checked out of the library recently for Jon, highlights the "hero" of Baynard's book: the librarian. He discusses how librarians understand and maintain the "big picture": "the relation of books to one another - the system we call cultural literacy, which form our collective library." He goes on to say that "cultivated" people know that it is not the number of books you read but how you put them together with the ideas within the book, other books, and the world around you that counts.

Ah...it is like drinking a clean, cool, long drink of water on a hot day.

I particularly am interested in the systemization of the collective library that he talks about. It recollects an article in the NYT a few months ago about a library that abandoned classification to be more like a book store and more accessible. Wow...in searching for that piece in the Times Archive, I just found this one from yesterday discussing the issue as well. If Baynard is correct in saying that "culture is above all a matter of orientation", then I wonder whose orientation we are talking about? Is it the patron? Is it the arbitor of information, the librarian? The example in the most recent article points out that by breaking down the traditional walls, or desks, librarians have the opportunity to roam and mingle among their patrons, creating not just a more friendly atmosphere but also one where librarians can shine. Perhaps the greatest moments for me are when I help someone find what they are looking for but then we find more than that item because we are downstairs, talking about books, ideas, assignments, likes, dislikes. We are communicating and I can connect their ideas with materials. But more importantly with other ideas.

And here I am...proving his point. I haven't even read the book but I already have quite a bit to say about it.

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