For me, librarianship begins, and ends, with the heart.

Hyperlinked Libraries Reflective Blog #1

What do I mean when I say librarianship is about “the heart”? Quite a few things, actually.

I mean my heart is happy and content when I am working at my town’s public library where I can be of service – to my patrons, my neighbors, my community. I’ve been told that I “wear my heart on my sleeve” as if this is a distasteful thing. I happen to believe it is a good quality. With my heart, I strive to empathize or sympathize; show genuine kindness, concern, and interest; try to listen with my ears (and heart) in an attempt to understand. And then – as a human in the role of librarian – assist, guide, and facilitate. I was so excited to see similar ideas and thought processes in the foreword, preface, and first chapter (The Hyperlinked Librarian) of The Heart of Librarianship (Stephens, 2016). It is this concept of “heart” that drew me to this class. For example, “the library should be human. It means that behind the keyboard, behind the blog, and behind the Facebook page, there’s a person ready to have a conversation: ready to help, ready to listen” (Stephens, 2016, p. 26). It was exciting to me to see these sentiments reflected back at me in the foundational readings.

Back to what I mean when I say librarianship is about “the heart.” I also consider “the heart of the library” to be the people that use the library. The people – patrons, users, customers, guests – (call them what you want), are why we, as librarians, are there. Some might think that books, or reference material, or the catalog – are “the heart” of a library. I could see how a case could be made for that, but I firmly believe that it is the users. As we see, libraries are constantly changing, in constant flux. Many libraries no longer have that many books or reference material in print, and the catalog can now be accessed from outside of the library. A library is not without a “heart” because it does not have books. The heart of a library is its users. As Stephens (2016) says, “We must always keep working to be there, to be present, to be at the edge of what’s happening, and to be very visible while focusing on people, not technology, not the collection” (p. 26). And Denning (2015) reminds us that we must figure out “How can we delight our users and customers?” for this is what librarianship is about.

I also like to envision the public library as “the heart” of its community. Public libraries today, often strive to be “the hub” of the town, city, or county it serves. I really like that analogy, as well. Maybe it could be “the hub with a heart”? A public library should be the place where the people it serves want to come for information, entertainment, relaxation, conversation, assistance, and lifelong learning. All of it – given with heart, from one heart to another.

I do want to veer slightly off topic for a moment, and mention The Three Scary “Cs” – change, creativity, and chaos. To me, anyway, these are somewhat scary concepts that were discussed a great deal in The Hyperlinked Librarian. I am trying to change my mindset about the three Cs and see them as exciting challenges (oh, another “C”!) that are integral aspects of librarianship – for today, tomorrow, and the future. I am hoping my “heart” will guide me: to help me remain open and positive in the face of change, to spark creative solutions and services that truly make our users’ lives better, and to keep me centered and focused while working within the chaos.

Just this past week, I was encouraged that my “heart” may indeed help guide my decisions and choices as a librarian. A patron I have known for many years now called the library asking for help in finding a cookbook for a “renal diet.” She is caring for a 92 year old family member whose kidneys are failing. She herself is in her mid-70s and is commuting two hours round trip to visit him daily. She said she looked in the library system’s catalog but did not see an appropriate cookbook and thought I might have better luck finding one. Well, I didn’t – there was not a single book in the system focused on recipes for a renal diet. So, this is what I did. I located some websites that were targeted towards people with kidney problems that had some appropriate recipes. I also found a couple of free PDFs of renal diet cookbooks that had been put together by organizations and by individuals who realized there was a need. I sent my patron an email with this information, but I also asked her to go to Amazon.com, where there are many renal diet cookbooks for sale, and to choose two she really liked. I made the decision, then and there, to tell her the library would purchase the books, give them her when they arrived, let her keep them as long as she needed, and when she was done with them, she could bring them to the library and we would catalog them and put them in our collection. She was so appreciative and relieved – she thanked me up and down for the recipes I sent for her to use now, and for the library’s willingness to step up and order the books to help her with an information need and to fill a need in the system’s collection.

I did what I did because that is what I would want the library to do for me if I needed something they couldn’t provide. And I could do this because I work in a small library (a director, two full time staff, two part-time staff) with a director who allows me to take initiative and trusts me to make some decisions without having to run them by her first. I made this decision from my heart – I could sympathize with the situation she was in and came up with a solution that would help her, and was also acceptable to my director. Maybe leading with my “heart” can help me to be a better librarian?

I guess my definition of librarianship does, in fact, begin and end with the heart.

References

Denning, Steve. (2015). Do We Need Libraries? Forbes.com. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2015/04/28/do-we-need-libraries/?linkId=13831539&utm_campaign=ForbesTech&utm_channel=Technology&utm_medium=social&utm_source=TWITTER&sh=126f940f6cd7

Stephens, M. (2016). The hyperlinked librarian. The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. (pp. 1-36). Chicago: ALA Editions.

14 Comments

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14 Responses to For me, librarianship begins, and ends, with the heart.

  1. That is awesome that you did that for your patron. In my eyes that’s what being a librarian is all about. I wish I could say in my library my co-workers felt the same way but unfortunately they want don’t.

  2. I love this post! I appreciate how much you shared your heart!! Thank you for giving us all such a thoughtful gift! I really liked reading about the different realms in which the heart concept resonated for you. I agree with you that the heart of the library is its users and I think it is so important to remind people of that truth. I really appreciated your vulnerability when you shared your thoughts on the three Cs and your example of librarianship with heart–OMG! What loving, dedicated service you provide in your library!! This all makes my heart smile. Thank you SO much for sharing.

    • Hi again @juliemcpherson,
      I had intended to relate the comments I made previously about my “personality” to my fears of the three Cs. Change, creativity, and chaos are things I had naively hoped I could avoid to some degree by becoming a librarian. How wrong I was! I understand now, that we need to be able to thrive in the face of the three Cs. Honestly, most of us in the 21st century need to be able to do this since everything changes so quickly.
      Have a great day and I hope your heart continues to smile!
      M

  3. Hi Julie @juliemcpherson,
    I don’t know what to say…I’m blushing, lol. But thank you, I’m glad you didn’t think my over-sharing was too corny! In some ways, I’m the strerotypical librarian – introverted, like books, kinda quiet. But in other ways, since a librarian is one who provides a service(s) to people, sometimes I’m friendly, inquisitive, downright loud!
    I’m really happy that I made your heart smile!
    M

    • I am so glad you shared the story about your patron and her much-needed cookbooks; I feel like that’s the exact kind of story we all need to hear while we contemplate putting these theories into practice. I’m glad your director appreciates your heart-led leadership, too!

  4. @michellecal678

    “Just this past week, I was encouraged that my “heart” may indeed help guide my decisions and choices as a librarian.”

    I so loved your story about ordering the diet books. Spot on wholehearted librarianship! Thanks for sharing.

  5. I have to be honest, I thrive on those 3 Cs! I think that is why working in a library system bogged under layers of bureaucracy can be frustrating. I loved your story of helping with the cookbook materials. My immediate reaction was, How can she just order a book? Did she buy it herself? What if the library decides not to add it to the collection? Then I realized, I was falling victim to the “what if something happens” mindset. I am so happy to learn that little libraries exist, where the staff can be empowered to serve the community as needed. This is indeed what is meant by the heart of librarianship. 

  6. @tvandeusen,
    it is so interesting to me that those questions jumped right to mind. I guess I hadn’t realized how lucky I am to work in a library where we communicate with each other on a daily basis and where each of us (the 4 of us) is given quite a bit of latitude in making decisions.
    I keep thinking it would be so interesting to work in a large library with a substantial budget and tons of programs and services. But maybe I shouldn’t forget about the bureaucracy, the hierarchy, and the culture of a large organization.
    Definitely some pros and cons to consider for my future choices of employment.
    M

  7. Hey, I really appreciated this post because my grandma is in end-stage renal disease. It is such a struggle trying to find accurate sources of information on what diets are good/bad. You did a really great thing and it felt like a “paying-it-forward” act. She defs will have a fond memory of the support you gave her in her moment of struggle.

  8. What a wonderful post! Having a heart in our future library work is essential for the patrons, and also for ourselves! Work becomes more meaningful when we find fulfillment in what we do. And that includes helping others like the story you told us about the cookbooks.

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