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LIS 950: Libraries and community

The purpose of this seminar is to explore an important topic in library and information studies in depth — in all its intertwined historical, cultural, philosophical, and political aspects — through a graduate reading/discussion seminar. The topic varies each time the course is taught; this time around, we will focus on "libraries and community"

Thursday, October 13, 2005

thoughts for Friday

I thought that McCook's idea that librarians need to be proactively engaged in community-building efforts and active in local community planning had a great deal of resonance. She seemed t0 recognize that a great deal of this effort lies in the realm of the socio-political. I think she was correct in noting that libraries are not recognized as they should be when community resources are invoked or considered. I think this is generally true of libraries, not just public libraries. They are regarded benignly as a general good but not as an active force in their community. Yet, they can, should and sometimes do work actively in the community.

At first I was kind of grumpy that the political climate she was talking about seemed so liberal and outmoded--the political climate just isn't like that these days, but then I realized that this book too is a product of its time. As the political landscape has changed, libraries have to find ways to be proactive in ways that are appropriate to their time and place.

In that regard, especially with some of the other postings that are going around on SLIS lists this week I started wondering what public libraries are doing in areas where a lot of Katrina refugees are gathered together. Are they sponsoring outreach programs in shelters to tell people how to find information about jobs and housing, are they inviting people to come to the library to use computers and assisting them in doing this, even maybe providing transportation so people can do this? Are they asking for places at the table when relief groups are talking about how to help this uprooted community? This in many ways makes the library into a social-service agency, not a cultural agency, but I think that is what this book is advocating. I'm not sure what I think about the library as a social-service agency. How far should it go in this regard? It might be interesting to talk about this; it seems like both a historical and a contemporary issue.

In this regard, I too had issues about the focus only on Hispanic communities. I suppose this is just for the sake of example, but, what about the elderly? Those in nursing homes?i What about the homeless? -- many people in homeless shelters are families with children, who go to school in the community. How does a library that wants to be proactive identify the community that needs its services? Can it really serve them all?

I also was glad she mentioned some of the institutional barriers to outreach, such as overburdened staff, the sense that administration is the only route to a good salary and career success, and one that I think is overlooked -- the typecasting of minorities as only suitable for working with minority populations-- I''ve been struck by how many minority öutreach"librarians we have read about are assistants to somebody else of the majority, who has broader responsibilities. Some of this is contradictory, but I wonder if there is a pattern and if somebody has researched it.



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