I’m better at reading these things than I am at writing them myself, but it dawned on me this afternoon that probably what I mostly believe about librarianship is that it is about showing up.
Today I have not worked any desk shifts, nor have I placed any book orders or run any reports or done much else of a concrete and quantifiable nature. What I’ve mostly done is what I think of as staffing the Reference Desk of the Library Staff. That means that I sit in my office, and then sometimes I get up and walk around and do roving reference, and I talk to people on staff who come and have questions, or I go say hi to them and see what conversation ensues.
The first thing I asked for, before I even started work here, was that they rearrange my office furniture so that I didn’t have my back to the door. I like being able to see people coming, and while it’s sometimes useful to have a private office for certain conversations, I like having my door open and my windows into the main work room uncovered. And I like going to talk to people in person instead of just sending them emails.
So yes: I show up. I engage with people. I help people find stuff. That’s half of it, at least.
But the other half of librarianship, to me, involves something else I’ve written about: that the encounter between the librarian and the patron is meeting between two experts. I don’t mean that to deny the expertise of the librarian, which I think is real. But I want whenever possible to remember that along with that expertise comes a power dynamic, and that just because I may have more perceived authority in the library than the patron does not mean I am more important.
People talk a great deal about how libraries are great socialist institutions, and I think that’s true. But I want them to be great anarchist institutions, too: places where we face each other not as supplicant and benefactor but as people with different skills involved in mutual aid, both trying, in our fumbling way, to build a better world.