Much is written about love and libraries. There is ILoveLibraries.org, a site created by the American Library Association. The site does many things toward library and librarian advocacy, including the I Love My Librarian award. There is also the Love Libraries website run out of the UK, promoting UK libraries. There is also a We Love Libraries film and Pew has been doing a ton of research on libraries, much of it focused on how much people love and value libraries.
I believe that we are having the wrong conversation.
The conversation we should be having is how much we in libraries love our communities.
We who work in, for, and around libraries know that people love and value the work we do. The loud rumblers, grumpy naysayers, and anti-all-public-service stinkpots are few and far between (though indeed they do be loud). We get validation all the time from our communities, from the small “thank you” after a reference question to a huge donation from a grateful patron. If we know that we’re essential to the community, that people love and trust us…why are we constantly expending energy to remind the people we serve of that very fact?
In thinking about this issue, I can’t get away from the image my brain conjures up of a librarian hurriedly following someone on the sidewalk shouting pronouncements like “All your neighbors love libraries!” and “You love us. Don’t forget that you love us!”
Are we truly that defensive that we feel we have to prove our worth through reminding the people we serve that they think we’re so frigging awesome that they’d better keep loving us or else risk societal shunning? This defensive posture does not serve us well. It does not prove our worth, but rather sounds like a whinging adolescent trying to convince himself that he’s cool by telling the cool kids “I’m cool – no really I am!”
And that’s the crux of the issue. I don’t think we focus on “library/librarian love” for the sake of our communities, to remind them of what we do so they’ll use us more, as an outreach or advocacy tool, or as a political move to solidify our value in the minds of stakeholders.
We do it to make ourselves feel better.
In a time of decreasing employment for MLIS-holders, reductions or (at best) stagnation of library funding, and a nearly unprecedented increase in demand and workload (my library is a good example of this), I think that some librarians and other library workers are feeling rather unappreciated and pessimistic about the future. But of course we can’t say that out loud in public, so instead we mount these library/librarian love campaigns and beg other people to validate our existence.
What bothers me most about this is that nearly everyone I’ve ever met who works in a library, no matter the position or type of library, believes wholeheartedly in what we do for a living. The way I phrase it is “We democratize information and expertise.” We all believe in that goal. We fight for it. We believe in what we do because…(wait for it)…we love our communities and want to serve them to the best of our ability.
Most library staffers I know bend over backward to serve people. We live in the communities we serve. We love our neighbors. We love information, freedom of access, education, and entertainment. We who work in libraries love them more than anyone else. But what do we love more than libraries? The communities we serve.
And that, my friends, is what we should be focusing on. We should be campaigning that “The Library Loves You”…not begging for loving scraps of endearment ourselves.
Shifting that viewpoint, changing the looking glass, is going to be my goal for the beginning of 2014. I hope you will join me.