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Librarians in the 21st Century: The Power of Our Choices

9 February 2017

From The Literary Hub:

 After spending a lifetime in libraries, as a user and then as an employee (and still a user!), I’ve been thinking about the cultural discoveries I’ve made through libraries. The first books that had me considering what it meant to understand someone different than yourself through fiction were Faye Kellerman’s Rina Lazarus/Peter Decker series. I can’t remember where I jumped in, somewhere around Day of Atonement or False Prophet. But by the time we got to Justice, in 1995, Kellerman was permanent on my auto-buy list. I had just graduated from college, but I’d still had limited interactions with people who practiced Judaism. The books are mysteries, first and foremost, but the culture and traditions of Judaism are central to the characters in a way I’d never experienced before. But it wasn’t until I started buying library books for others that I began to think of my job as being a bridge to someone else’s cultural discovery.

As a black nerd in the 1980s who read just about anything she could get her hands on, reading about people different than myself, or reading about people like me written through the eyes of people different than myself, was a common occurrence. But the idea that reading about people different than myself, living their ordinary lives between adventures, could give me an understanding of different cultures: that was a new idea for me. If Kellerman’s books hadn’t been in the mystery section of the library, maybe I would have discovered them, but probably not. If my tiny library hadn’t ordered them, I definitely wouldn’t have discovered them.

So, now that I’m selecting materials for the community, doing collection development, I think a lot about not only what materials we add to the collection, but also where they’ll live in buildings, and how to get the most eyes on those materials. Collection development is what librarians call the process by which we add materials to library collections, and it’s one of those library terms that sounds like it means a lot, but actually tells you very little. In the broadest sense, collection development librarians are charged with seeking out and acquiring materials in accordance with the mission of any given library. If you’re an academic library, the primary focus of the collection is usually to support the curriculum of the institution. When I did collection development in an academic library, as a paraprofessional, it was for a tiny popular collection project. It was 1996, and the most notable book I selected for that collection: some fantasy book called A Game of Thrones. What I learned from that experience was that I needed to be in a public library. If you’re a public library, the focus of the collection can be as wide and varying as the community you serve. “Community” can be, and usually is, defined in a variety of ways by a variety of library stakeholders, including librarians.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub