Looking for the super awesome, pie-filled ball of fantastic-ness that is the Urban Librarian’s Conference?! It’s over here!!
Looking for the super awesome, pie-filled ball of fantastic-ness that is the Urban Librarian’s Conference?! It’s over here!!
What They Are. What They Are Not. What We Hope They Could Be.
Urban Librarians Unite is pleased to announce its own small network of little libraries. These bright orange newspaper boxes have been set up outside of library branches in Brooklyn and Queens closed due to damage from Hurricane Sandy. These tiny, all-weather libraries house about a hundred books each at a time and there is no expectation whatsoever that the books need to come back.
These Mini Libraries are a great way to get reading materials out to those who are still recovering from the storm. It is still an utter mess out there and a lot of people are still struggling. These books are a tiny spark of entertainment, they provide some distraction, and they remind people that the library has not forgotten them or their community. Our Children’s Book Campaign has been wildly successful and we have thousands of books to distribute. These little libraries are a direct pipeline to the public, a way of putting books right into their hands.
Some of us at ULU have had a very complicated relationship with the little library movement. As library professionals it can be difficult to see a static pile of books referred to as a “library.” While the circulation model is synonymous with the modern library it is, in some ways, the least of the work that we do. Yes, it is important to circulate information and entertainment and free access to take these materials away is at the heart of the library compact with its patrons. For many of us however the essence of the work is finding the RIGHT book. That is what drives us. It becomes difficult to embrace the little library movement when that aspect of service is removed. A library without a librarian is a pile of books. It lacks a life spark, an essential curation component and thus a dynamic inspiration.
The fear that library advocates have is that these little libraries will be seen as an alternative to public libraries. Why should taxpayers pay for a service that they can set up in their own front yards? What happens if the public decides to create these themselves and the public library is lost, diminished, or forgotten? This fear is, upon reflection, a juvenile one. Nobody could mistake any of the hundreds of delightful little libraries out there for that of a professionally run public library. Advocates of little libraries are often rabid supporters of big libraries as well and it is their respect for the institution that makes them want to emulate it. It is impossible to mistake a citizen’s reading exchange for a well run reference desk.
Our Mini Libraries will suffer from the same limitations as any little library. They could never be mistaken as an alternative to the branch libraries they substitute and intended to support. They do offer some comfort and succor, especially to kids and families, and they remind people that libraries–and their librarians–are nimble, caring and quick to respond to the needs of their communities.
We hope that our Mini Libraries will evolve. They are out and working but we want to augment them as we go as well. Should we put counters in them so we could track how often they are being used? How about if we could install some lighting? Let’s take it further and directly attack the base limitations on the little library model. What if we had teams dispatched to the Mini Libraries for a few hours on the weekend so people could get direct reference and library services? What if, as well as providing information and entertainment in the form of books, these libraries were transformed into library advocacy resources where people could get information about what was happening with their library and how they can support it? What if we could install a Library Box in each unit so in addition to being a repository for physical books each Mini Library can provide digital resources in a wireless radius around itself?
The Mini Libraries are a resource for our communities, a chance to experiment in library science, and a reminder to the public that even if the library itself is in ruins, the librarians are still thinking of them. We are excited about the possibilities and hope you will join us as we try new things with our teeny tiny libraries.
Here is the second of two runner up essays for ULU’s inaugural book scholarship and essay contest for area library school students, submitted by Andy Rutkowski, who is currently enrolled in LIU Palmer/NYU’s Dual Degree program and pursuing a library degree alongside a degree in Trauma and Violence Studies. For the past six years Andy has been a Reference Associate for Business and Government Documents at NYU’s Bobst Library. Recently he converted to long distance running and enjoys the new perspective that running brings to looking at and understanding the city.
Here is what Andy submitted in response to the question: “What is the role of the librarian in the city?”
To be a librarian in the city is to be many things, to play not one role, but to play many roles and to play them well. The string that ties it all together is the ability to welcome the patron, the researcher, the reader – whoever walks through the library doors – to the resources and expertise that you have at your fingertips. The city is sometimes a cacophony to the senses, as librarians we are instrumental in helping make sense out of questions as mundane as “where are the bathrooms” to as intensive as “I am trying to understand how education can impact rates of recidivism in New York State.” In each and every interaction our role should be one that not only answers a question, but whenever possible answers it in a way that opens this question to further dialogue, instruction, and reflection. To do this effectively we must “listen” to the questions being asked. And, as we all know, this is no small task in our busy multi-tasking environments.
How do we learn to listen? I would suggest it begins before we hear any sound. Listening means to anticipate and to trying to greet the patron before they even arrive at the Reference Desk. It is as simple and subtle as making eye contact and saying a quiet hello to a patron waiting in line as you help the two or three persons before them. Perhaps, most importantly, it means that we must learn to listen to ourselves and know our limitations, weaknesses, and strengths. One of the hardest things when at a Reference Desk or answering a question via chat, or phone (traditional or cell or text!) or whichever new method we create or encounter is admitting that we do not know the answer. It is an impulse that is hard to resist and yet how else can we ever truly collaborate with our colleagues if we don’t ask them for help? In a way, this means that we need to be more like our patrons, learning to ask questions and knowing that it is OK to learn the answers to questions together.
I remember one of the first trips that I ever took to the main branch of the New York Public Library at 42nd street. What I recall vividly was that the space opened up before me when I entered the building and I encountered a seriousness, a feeling that something important was happening there. I was only there to look at a book, but the atmosphere and the help that I received from the librarians made me feel like I was there for a reason – that I had arrived at the right place. I think one of the most important scenes that we must help create as librarians in the city is this space for awe and wonder. To become part of a journey for anyone who comes into this space. Buildings themselves can be wonderful places, but devoid of collections and people they are nothing more than hollow shells filled with potential. Librarians fill this void, picking up the shell and bringing it up to the patron’s ear and letting them listen to all that is inside. With every reference interaction there is an opportunity to make a change in not only that person’s life, but countless others, by simply pointing them in the right direction. By helping them understand their questions better. By being a partner in their quest for knowledge.
To be a librarian in the city is to be many things, but the most important thing, in a way, is to help bring into relief all of those things that make each and every library so important – the collections, the people, and services that they all provide. In this way, the hardest role that a librarian can assume is one in which they disappear so that all those other facets of the library appear. I don’t want to argue that a librarian’s role is that of a magician. But, I will argue that there is something magical about providing access to knowledge. And this is one role that we should all take pride in enacting.
Here is one of two runner up essays for ULU’s inaugural book scholarship and essay contest for area library school students, submitted by Anne Young, a Master of Library Science candidate at Long Island University focusing on Rare Books and Manuscripts.
Here is what Anne submitted in response to the question: “What is the role of the librarian in the city?”
Pronunciation: /kjʊˈreɪtə(r)/ /ˈkjʊərətə(r)/
Etymology: overseer, guardian, agent-n.
The role of the urban librarian is both formal (organization –> curator) and informal
(develop –> incubator). Long gone are the days when librarians would point to a
book for an answer. The interrelationship of curator and incubator is keenly seen in the urban librarian as they compete with iPhones to generate authoritative sources, develop entertaining and educational programs, partner with teachers in producing curriculum and serve a variety of changing community-based needs. Urban librarians exploit new techniques (digit- (fill in the blank)) while continuing to maintain the old.
In today’s 21st century, information has become a style. And like any style, it need
incubation and curation to become useful. The urban librarian provides those roles to today’s ‘customer-driven’, ‘learner-centric’, ‘participant-centered’ library by revolving around the question “does this information really ‘suit’ my patron’s method/fashion?”. Content is filtered and selected and takes into account quality, originality and relevance. Some content needs development before it becomes trustworthy and then deemed accessible and fit for use.
Since the main customers of urban librarians are information consumers, the librarians must always be aware of how to bring information with integrated context to their audience. The librarians select, classify, enrich and distribute it in a way that it can be readily consumed. At times, the librarians may have to normalize the information or incubate it to a stage until it is ready to be delivered. Finding one’s way through requires expert knowledge in knowing what is flawed, what is in a development stage and what is relevant.
Urban librarians identify, group, nurture and organize content and strategically place it into a variety of programs and sources most relevant to their audiences. Often it means thinking ‘way-out-of-the-walls’. In return, new and existing audiences become engaged and can often participate in creating continuing content.
Whether or not the actual terms of curator and incubator will replace “librarian” is still to be seen. But his or her actions are easily discernible to anyone who walks into any urban library.
Attention NYC Library School Students: Urban Librarians Unite Book Scholarship Essay Contest (Winter Quarter, 2013) is officially open. Once again we challenge the library school community of New York City to write an essay addressing a topic common to urban librarianship. The topic this season is something many working librarians have been thinking and talking about a great deal:
What is the role of the librarian in the city?
Our panel of judges are looking for bold and creative thoughts tied to well-written professional writing. Show us your best and brightest ideas. Join the dialog of urban librarianship. And in the end, the author of the best essay will win a gift card for books and supplies worth $200.
- Submit essays to as a .doc attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org
- All essays must be submitted by end of day (11:59pm) February 15th, 2013
- All entrants must either live in New York City or attend a Library/Information Science
program at an accredited library school based in New York City
- All entrants must be presently enrolled in a course of study pursuant to postgraduate education in
Library/Information Science (“Library School”)
- Essays should be between 1000 – 1200 words
- Essays should be on the topic/question given for that semester only
- One essay per person, per semester
- No repeat submissions of the same essay in different semesters
- Essay winners may compete again in subsequent semesters
- All essays will be considered anonymously
- Winning essay will be published on urbanlibrariansunite.org
- Runner up essays will be published on urbanlibraiansunite.org at the discretion of the
organization and the essay author
- Contest winners shall receive a $200 cash prize for use in purchasing books and
supplies for the pursuit of postgraduate library and information science education.
- Submit essays as Microsoft Word documents (.doc)
- Put your name and the name of your institution at the top of the first page of your essay
- Do not put your name in the header or footer of the essay
- Use APA formatting for text and citations
Please pay careful attention to all contest rules. Essays not within boundaries of the rules may be disqualified. Winner will be contacted by email and announced on this website in March 2013.
And – we’re also proud to share the winning essay for Urban Librarians Unite Book Scholarship Essay Contest (Fall Quarter, 2012), written by Haruko Yamauchi. We’ll be posting the runner ups from last year’s contest in the weeks to come.