restricted access Improve Society
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t h r e a d s 117 iMprove society The eternal conflict of good and the best with bad and the worst is on. —Melvil Dewey the Mission oF Librarians is to iMprove society through FaciLitating KnowLedge creation in their coMMunities If the previous Thread was about listening to the community and giving the members what they want, this Thread is about listening to your conscience and moving the community toward what it needs. It is about realizing that you have a voice in a conversation and a responsibility to guide conversations. Look again at the mission (it is all about the mission). It has two parts. The “Knowledge,” “Facilitation,” and “Communities” Threads are related to the second part of the mission statement: facilitating knowledge creation in the community. “Knowledge” tells us how members (and we) create knowledge—through conversations that consist of conversants, language, agreements, and memory. Facilitation is all about how we can serve the members: through access, knowledge, environment, and motivation. The “Community” Thread is an exploration of the pressure for participation in different settings: digital, physical, hybrid, public, academic, and so on. Through these threads, I have consistently talked about co-ownership and focused on members. But let us not forget the first part of the mission: to improve society. The first part is the ethical counterbalance to the second. It requires us not to simply do whatever the community wants but to ensure that our actions are for the betterment of the whole. To talk of improvement, of “betterment,” you must have a position —a baseline from which you work. As our means of facilitation help define us as librarians, our underlying worldview and general sense of direction—for “better” implies movement toward some goal—does even more so. This sense of direction and improvement comes ultimately from our values. It is our values, developed over centuries of tradition, that dictate how we should use our understanding of members’ knowledge and the tools of facilitation. Think of our tools and theory as a car: They define how the engine works, how we steer, how we accelerate, and so on. Our values define how we actually drive the car. Commercial search engines can provide access, baseline knowledge, and even policies that ensure some level of safety and take into account motivation. In essence, they have the same parts as us to build a car. However, these efforts are not grounded firmly in a mission to improve society and values developed with our communities that are embodied in a social compact. So although we may all be going down the road in cars, librarians are fundamentally concerned about the safety of our passengers (members) and getting them to the right destination, whereas others in the road are looking for exits to profit or fame. However, the values of new librarianship are not simply taken whole cloth from our traditions. Some values espoused by librarians are simply incompatible with this new worldview. I would argue that, although librarians have been talking about concepts such as “unbiased ,” it has been impossible to enact. Further, librarians must come to terms with values that, when seen in the new realities of massive scale storage and computing, turn out to be at odds with each other. For example, how can we talk about intellectual freedom and the value of weeding a collection at the same time? Also, Dewey’s unrelenting pressure on efficiency must be moderated to account for the messy reality of satisficing (the economic concept where people will take convenient information over optimal—we come back to this when discussing core values later. Of course, values without deeds and action are nothing more than posturing. We must marry our beliefs and knowledge with action . Improving society is not as simple as believing you know how it could be better, but actually working to make it better. That is why this Thread combines core values with innovation and leadership. That is the thrust of this Thread, then: to talk about our core values and the obligations we have as individual librarians and as a profession to lead and innovate—to make society better by making our voices heard. iMportance oF action and activisM* I had just given a lecture on participatory librarianship at the University of Boras in Sweden. I was having lunch with some of the lecture participants when one asked me, “So if two men are having a conversation about a topic they know little about, can we...


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