beyond the bookshelves? what does that even mean???

Picture found here

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved libraries.  I can remember going with my mom to check out books when I was young, and being forced to leave against my will, because I could have spent whole days there.  While other kids in elementary school loved gym class, or art, my favorite specials class was library.  Even now, one of the first things I do when I move to a new place is obtain a public library card.  One of my favorite things about my new apartment in Syracuse is that it is walking distance from a library.

To say that a library is just a physical location where I can go find new books to read, though, is to severely limit both the scope and impact of libraries.  Similarly, to say that librarians are just people who check out books, or help people find books, is to limit the influence and abilities of librarians.

I love books.  I don’t think that’s a secret, and I don’t think that books are going anywhere in the near (or distant) future.  But libraries aren’t just about books, because knowledge isn’t obtained or created simply through access to books.  As we discussed in class, knowledge is created through conversation, and librarians are facilitators of that conversation.  That facilitation doesn’t have to take place in one particular, static location; it can occur wherever librarians happen to be.

In order for librarians to fulfill their mission, which is, according to Professor Lankes in The Atlas of New Librarianship, “to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities,” it is definitely necessary to make sure that physical libraries have resources that are relevant and in-demand in the community.  However, it is also necessary to move beyond the bookshelves, to go out into the community, and to facilitate knowledge creation wherever the greatest need for it is in the community.

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In some places, that may mean creating a LibraryFarm, where people can check out a garden plot and grow their own produce.  Or it may mean bringing books to people in remote villages with the help of two donkeys.  Perhaps going beyond the bookshelves means traveling with a team of medical professionals to train rural health workers.  Or, in some places, it may be as simple as offering something a little unorthodox for checkout, like, for example, a cake pan.

As I mentioned earlier, knowledge is created through conversation, and the great thing about conversation is you can take it with you anywhere.  You don’t have to be within the walls of a physical library to facilitate a conversation, and in some cases it’s best for the community if you get out from behind the stacks of books and take the conversation right to them.

I will always love and advocate for books.  But as a future librarian, my goal is to facilitate knowledge creation, and that can take place anywhere, from inside a library to far beyond the bookshelves.

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