- Perspectives, Insights & Priorities: 17 Leaders Speak Freely of Librarianship
Those of us working in libraries immediately realize their importance to communities: they store special collections and government records; allow the public free information access; offer a central gathering place for people and organizations; and serve as cultural and educational centers where individuals, students, children, and families can meet a famous author, get help with homework, or learn to read.
Yet this significance often fails to translate. Why are librarians still struggling with salary issues and professional status? Why do libraries continue to grapple with censorship and funding issues? Will libraries—and librarians—survive into the future? Seventeen prominent librarians discuss these and other issues in this collection of illuminating essays about libraries, library education, and librarianship.
These issues, of course, have been debated before, but Norman Horrocks's editorial decision to resist assigning any contributor guidelines or stipulations lends to the unique nature of the book. Although there is some overlapping of themes (e.g., the democratic nature of libraries, the protection of intellectual freedom, the values and ethics that librarians share), each writer offers a distinct perspective, with specific examples, on his or her reasoning and experience. Ultimately, these individual voices demonstrate the diverse aspects of librarianship.
The strongest politically themed essays are John Berry III's "Election 2004: The Library Fails Again" and Kathleen de la Pena McCook's "Social Justice as a Context for a Career in Librarianship." Berry rightfully scolds libraries for their too-passive role as information providers and archivists in the 2004 election. [End Page 414] He asserts that many libraries simply did not advertise their abilities to supply election information to the public; they also failed to collect viewpoints on all major issues that would have helped "correct the misinformation that was everywhere during the campaign" (14). Berry later specifies how libraries can and should repair this apathy. McCook also delves into this theme of democracy and bridges her personal journey as a librarian in the turbulent 1960s with that of today. She writes of the continuing importance for libraries to advocate social justice: challenge library closings and censorship, support workers' rights, and secure "preferential treatment to poor people and the homeless" (97).
Few essays in this collection deal solely with library education, but many do include brief mentions. The most notable is by Ken Haycock, who, in his very smart essay, "Librarianship: Intersecting Perspectives for the Academy and from the Field," writes that in order for the profession to retain its valued concentration on "the user's needs and the public's right to know," programs and instructors should focus on "librarianship as a profession and vocation and not simply about libraries as institution and place" (64). He effectively utilizes the same argument when addressing the controversy surrounding the semantics of titles, in which "information studies" supplants "librarianship." (On a different note, be sure to peruse Haycock's interesting observation on how library culture is "inherently unhealthy" .)
Although all the essays here are engaging, the most inspiring are the honest, invigorating pieces about librarianship by Mary K. Chelton, Gillian McCombs, and Lotsee Patterson. In her essay, "Serving Young Adults in Libraries: A Professional Life's Work," Chelton candidly speaks about the ups and downs of developing sufficient young adult services, about library organizations' helping and complicating the process, and about an evolving philosophy to "question the status quo" (34). McCombs's witty "The Fog of My Career: Some Reflections and Lessons Learned (with apologies to Errol Morris and Robert S. McNamara)" shares some life lessons learned along a rambling path of librarianship, such as "Lesson No. 6: Sometimes life is hell and you just have to get through it" (84). And although Patterson's "Reflections on a Passion" takes a more serious tone, it's equally insightful reading about her experiences creating tribal libraries from scratch—an especially admirable feat, considering the lack of support often given to such projects.
The timely publication of and the renowned authors...