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introduction to the atlas atlas |'at-l s| noun 1 (pl. atlases) a book of maps or charts : I looked in the atlas to find a map of Italy | a road atlas. • a book of illustrations or diagrams on any subject : Atlas of Surgical Operations. This atlas is written for you. It seeks to bolster the defiant who stand bravely before the crushing weight of the status quo and seeks to give hope to those silenced by the chorus of the mediocre and resistant to change. It seeks to show the way forward for librarians in a time of great challenge, change, and opportunity. It is also a statement that you are not alone, you are not crazy, you are right: It is not about cataloging , or books, or buildings, or committees—it is about learning, knowledge, and social action. But being right is irrelevant if it is not followed by real action and change. As I said at the 2002 Virtual Reference Desk conference, we must be brave and bold in addition to being right. We must be brave and stand up to the inertia of colleagues unwilling to change and an antiquated stereotype of librarians within our communities. We must be bold, in that this is no time for small ideas or limited action. A committee on innovation and a few brown bag talks about change are not going to help the world. The work in the Atlas is founded on the simple precept that the very definition of our field, its perception, and its ultimate effect are in the hands of librarians—our hands. Thousands of years of tradition serve as inspiration for our future, not as a set of shackles binding us. e 1 2 I n t r o d u c t I o n t o t h e At l A s As Israel Zangwill, the English writer, once wrote1 : The Past: Our cradle, not our prison; there is danger as well as appeal in its glamour. The past is for inspiration, not imitation, for continuation, not repetition. The ultimate goal of this book is to enumerate and express the inexpressible : that stripped of your collections and policies and organizations , you still stand noble. Your nobility comes from a mission no less than the preservation and improvement of society. Our nobility is not found in collections, or walls, or organizational structures, or even in our history—it is found in our action. The nobility of librarianship is earned every day by the dedicated action of thousands of individuals around the globe. That nobility is found in inspiring someone to read, in helping someone find a job, in connecting an abused wife to social services to save her life, and in a Philadelphia café at the central library staffed by dedicated personnel in transition from homelessness to work. The nobility of librarianship is found in schools where library media specialists prepare our future in the children they teach. It is in the government librarian who preserves freedom in the halls of political power. The nobility of librarians can be seen in the corporate offices, hospitals, law firms, departments of transportation, and colleges throughout the world. Although it has been cloaked in an air of service and hidden away behind quaint and romantic stereotypes, it is time for that nobility to shine and to be brought into clear focus for our communities. nAvIgAtIng the Future There is a theme that pervades this atlas. It is navigation. This is not merely a convenient metaphor or simple literary conceit. Rather, it emerges from the dynamic nature of the topic. Librarians are on a journey that started literally millennia ago and continues to this day. It is a journey that will continue for centuries to come—so long as we don’t lose our way. In any journey, there are milestones—key moments that allow us to stop and review our course. As the web explodes, the world economy stumbles, the newspaper industry implodes, the media landscape fragments, and societies around the world face social unrest, librarians have not only an opportunity but an obligation to find their center and the means to continue a centuries-long mission to use knowledge to better understand the past, make a better today, and invent an ideal future. These are lofty goals, and it would be pure hubris to claim that the Atlas could accomplish all of this. Indeed, as is discussed at length, no artifact, however compelling, can accomplish...


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