I have spent much of my life with my nose in a book or pressed too closely to a computer screen. I gather and sort and curate my collection of ideas and quotes and dispense them when I think I can do some good. At work the other day a colleagues said that I “swallow the world and then spit out what is needed at just the right moment.”
So it’s not surprising that when “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was asked I ended up a librarian. I earned a Masters in Library and Information Science degree from the University of Western Ontario and worked in public services at Hamilton Public Library and then as Board Librarian for the Hamilton Wentworth Roman Catholic Separate School Board. I loved choosing and buying books and media for the libraries, helping patrons find what they were looking for, recommending great reads, conducting more in depth research for selected clients. I left the field in the end because while the library is a window to a whole world of ideas, it is contained in a very small physical space, and I wanted to roam the wider world.
I am a librarian to my very soul as anyone who has read my blog will tell you. But the public image of the profession never sat well with me. From Marion the Librarian on down, we have been portrayed as mousy, timid creatures who live in silence and have no sense of humour at all. But all that may be changing.
In this world of information overload, there is a growing respect being paid to those individuals who are capable of “swallowing the world” and spitting out what is the most relevant and reliable information for the question at hand.
Librarians are at the forefront of the social and ideological struggles of the moment. You can find them on every side, informing, educating, entertaining and facilitating debate. Here are just three recent headlines that illustrate my point.
1. CIA’s “vengeful librarians” stalk Twitter and Facebook
At the agency’s Open Source Centre, a team known affectionately as the “vengeful librarians” also pores over newspapers, TV news channels, local radio stations, Internet chat rooms – anything overseas that anyone can access and contribute to openly. From Arabic to Mandarin Chinese, from an angry tweet to a thoughtful blog, the analysts gather the information, often in native tongue.
They cross-reference it with the local newspaper or a clandestinely intercepted phone conversation. From there, they build a picture sought by the highest levels at the White House, giving a real-time peek, for example, at the mood of a region after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden or perhaps a prediction of which Mideast nation seems ripe for revolt.
2. Guerilla Librarians in Our Midst
They are the “guerrilla librarians” — the people organizing and distributing books and periodicals to keep the demonstrators informed and entertained. A library was established in Zuccotti Park at the very start of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, and it has received a good deal of attention. Several more sprang up as the protests spread. With the occupation movement, decentralized improvisation is the name of the game, so it’s impossible to tell just how many libraries have sprung up. But they exist in Boston and Philadelphia, in Portland, Ore. and Halifax, Nova Scotia, among other places. They are staffed by a mixture of professional librarians and activist volunteers, with “stacks” created through donations from publishers, bookstores, and individuals….
Volunteers have adopted a slogan summing up what the library brings to the movement, “Literacy, Legitimacy, and Moral Authority.”
3. You Know Things Are Messed Up When Librarians Are Marching
Sign seen at the Occupy Wall Street Protest in New York, is spreading to other sites.
Three morals in this story,
1. There is nothing more valuable to the revolution than a well expressed idea.
2. If knowledge is power, then beware the revolutionary librarian.
3. You know things are messed up when librarians are marching.
Yours with creativity and imagination,
*Image by karenlibrarian