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t h r e a d s 15 Mission The library is not a shrine for the worship of books. It is not a temple where literary incense must be burned or where one’s devotion to the bound book is expressed in ritual. A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas. —Norman Cousins the Mission oF Librarians is to iMprove society through FaciLitating KnowLedge creation in their coMMunities The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities. There are some important things to note about this mission statement. First, it is not the mission of a library or an organization; it is the mission of a librarian. It focuses the field on information professionals, but it also makes the responsibility personal to an individual. It doesn’t matter whether a librarian works in a library or hospital, a law firm, a search engine company, or out of his or her own home; the mission still stands. Although other threads in the Atlas unpack some of the key phrases in the mission statement, one must first answer the most basic question: Why bother having a field-wide mission statement anyway? A mission, vision, or goal provides a yardstick by which to gauge efforts and judge options. When librarians are faced with decisions, as they increasingly are in times of tight budgets, they must have some means of making the decision. Should a public librarian spend precious resources on popular materials? Databases? Longer hours? Without a common and deeply held mission, these decisions come down to personal or political choice often based on unquestioned assumptions . For example, I was on the board of a public library. The board had made a goal before I joined of constantly increasing the materials budget by 10%. When hard times hit, the goal remained, and so come budget time, the initial proposal to the board was to increase the collection budget and lay off staff. After a quick discussion about how having books that could not be found, shelved, or even circulated didn’t make much sense, it was decided to cut the materials budget and retain the staff. This might seem like an easy choice to the librarians reading this (even a victory), but that is not the point. Why was the initial proposal put forth in the first place? The answer comes down to the worldview that the mission of the library is situated within it. If you see the library’s primary value being the maintenance of a collection—that is, the mission of a library is the collection and provision of materials —then it makes a lot of sense to increase the materials budget. In contrast, if you see the main asset of a library as the professional or, even better, the potential positive effect librarians can have on a community , then it makes no sense at all. iMportance oF worLdview* In many ways, this entire Atlas is intended to make clear a worldview of librarianship not founded on materials, but outcomes and learning. Once again, this may seem like an easy or even obvious approach. However, look at the budgets that most libraries spend on materials and the activities surrounding them. Between buying, licensing, cataloging, shelving, housing, and circulating things, what is left? If you have a hard time answering that question beyond “reference,” you are not alone. The worldview of librarians has become so fixated on artifacts (books, CDs, etc.) that they have a hard time separating out their goals from the tools they use to achieve them. Allow me to illustrate with a story. A foundation was working with a large urban library to design a physical space for youth to explore new modes of learning. The library had identified an underutilized storage space and turned it over to researchers funded by the foundation. The researchers went about designing the space to be open, collaborative, and infused with technology . All seemed to be going well until architectural plans for the new space came in and the librarians asked, “Where are we going to put the books?” The researchers were dumbfounded. The library didn’t need the space for collections, and the researchers felt that a lot of shelving would deaden the space they envisioned. In a state of confusion, they asked me what was going on. My short answer was that the foundation researchers had run smack into a materials-centered...


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