The Dangers of Seeking Relevance

Anythink Library is a seven branch library system in Adams County, Colorado.The vision for Anything is, “Anythink is the catalyst for innovation in our community” (Anythink, n.d.-a). They focus on three key areas: community, culture and career. They strive to provide a space that is like a town square, where people can gather, socialize and debate. They strive to provide programs and services that reflect and enrich modern skills such as creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. The communications director, Stacie Ledden says, “We are really shifting and think of the library less as a place to warehouse books, and more of a place where you can come and interact with information in a new way and actually participate in a new experience” (Hood, 2014).

In order to provide these experiences for the public, Anythink requires these modern skills, or core competencies for all their staff. Core competencies are the knowledge, skills and abilities that are necessary to perform one’s job. Among the thirteen required competencies at the Anythink libraries (beyond those specific job duty skills) are: cooperative and collaborative, effective communicator, continuous learner, and innovative (Anythink, n.d.-b).

While I think that creating this third place where people can come to interact with information in a new way, create their own content and participate in a new experience is the direction that libraries should be heading, libraries need to consider what a library service is. If we start to think of libraries as social services, they will become places where people seek help beyond information services. They will become similar to the resilience centers that Eric Klinenberg developed (Pete, 2018). Resilience centers are neighborhood hubs that are open all the time and help people during crises. 

And of course, we’re in the library profession; we want to help people!

However, we are not trained in dealing with crises such as the homelessness crisis, mental health crises, or, and this is a timely one, pandemics. While, of course, we still serve people who are experiencing homelessness or who have a mental illness, we should not be serving them in the social service capacity. That requires special knowledge, skills and abilities that librarians do not have. 

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In the time of a pandemic, yes, of course we want to help people, but we should not stay open. Yes, we provide shelter for the homeless, yes we provide a social space for the elderly, and yes, we provide school lunches for children. However, these, in my mind, are not core library services. During the time of a pandemic, these ancillary services need to be set aside. 

My experience working during the covid-19 pandemic was pretty traumatic. I work at a large central library, and we have over 200 people in our building at any given time. We found ourselves policing our patrons like a parent, “Cough in your elbow, now wash your hands, don’t touch the keyboard, here’s a tissue”. While I believe it is important to have compassion for and care about people, this was above and beyond. It put our lives, and the public’s lives, in danger. It was impossible to provide a hygienic environment, and it was impossible to keep the necessary six feet social distance to prevent the spread of the virus.

So while we want to be an essential resource, and we want to be relevant to the people today, it is important to remember that we are information science professionals. This is what we do best. Libraries such as Anythink are an exemplar of this standard of service. They’re innovative, and they’re very much related to information science.   

References

Anythink. (n.d.-a). Anything strategic plan 2018-2022. Retrieved from https://www.anythinklibraries.org/anythink-strategic-plan-2018-2022

Anythink. (n.d.-b). Core competencies for all Anythinkers. Retrieved from https://www.anythinklibraries.org/sites/default/files/imce_uploads/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20Core%20Competencies%20Cover%20Letter.pdf

Hood, G. (2014). 5 ways Colorado libraries are going beyond books. Retrieved from https://www.kunc.org/post/5-ways-colorado-libraries-are-going-beyond-books#stream/0

Pete, L. (2018). Eric Klinenberg: Libraries and social infrastructure. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=181003-Eric-Klinenberg-QA

7 Thoughts.

  1. Navigating this pandemic is so tricky because it really is uncharted territory. Before the “shelter in place” order in the Bay Area went into effect and before the library I work at closed, I did not realize how easily the disease could spread at the library. The weekend before the closure, I had heard we would reduce our hours of operation. I did not hear about the decision to close until the day it happened when I looked at the library website. It was a decision that was made the night before, but then I gave it more thought and I realized that it was for the best. While the physical space is closed, we do have online resources available such as Hoopla or Kanopy, but I know that some patrons can’t access these resources from home. This situation shows how much some people depend on library access.

  2. It really does. I think it also shows us the weaknesses in our society. Like really? Children are not going to eat if libraries don’t feed them?? I hope this event causes people to evaluate our social structure and make changes for the better. I hope that it doesn’t cause libraries to want to be everything for everyone.

  3. So much resonated here but your comment just above is gold: I too hope we come out on the other side with a different attitude about people and essential human services. And about slowing down and appreciating such things as walking a trail together and gathering a group around a table to share a meal. (Pardon the wistfulness…I have to stop watching the news for awhile!)

    • @michael it’s good to be informed–to a point! I, personally, have reached saturation. My unit at work is planning a virtual happy hour, which is great, but I really hope we don’t fixate on the tragedy of it all. I’ve done my share of that. 😉 Be well! Hikes and shared meals are on the horizon.

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