The set manifestos of librarianship; or how I learned to l&& appreciate John Stott

So many manifestos, calls for change, movements… can they be reconciled?

I would hope so. What is needed is a move beyond oppositions and imbalance (nod to Walt Crawford) and an avoidance of absolutes.

Libraries are not just about books. Nor are they just about mashups and the limitless possibilities of creation. They are not solely for reading. But neither are they solely for the excercise of online creativity. Librarians are not just custodians and promoters of books. But neither should they all be rushing to learn php and be mashin’ it up.

These are of course extremes, but they are views you come across in discussions around libraries and their services. The best libraries will lie somewhere between these things.

Libraries are about access to memory, imagination, challenge; all in a community context. That means currently, and for a long time to come,  “books and ” to borrow Walt Crawford’s phrase. Books, online resources, spaces for creativity, spaces for quiet reading. The opportunity to engage with the popular and the obscure, and to create the popular/obscure.

Libraries are a partnership between providers and visitors. They should use the views and creativity of visitors, but accept the role of librarians in guiding services and exercising some sort of custodial care. They should be sensitive to new technologies and their demands, whilst retaining care for existing services and visitors; they will not mortgage the present. Nor will they flee the future.

Libraries will use the varying skills of their staff to design and deliver services, rather than demand that all staff have all skills. The broader librarian community will support this by sharing expertise in all areas, and not castigating those who choose not to do certain things- be that storytimes or unstorytimes…

Above all, libraries should reflect their area, in a way shops just don’t seem to do these days. Their collections and services will first serve the local visitor base. Where possible this work can then be shared.

John Stott is an evangelical theologian. I read his work when I was doing my MPhil on Evangelicals and Social Thought. I share none of Dr Stott’s religious views- I am agnostic- but his ideas on how to balance the demands of mission and social involvement came to mind as I thought about balance in libraries. He argued that you use the differing talents of a congregation to enable a church to serve all its community’s needs. You don’t expect every person to do everything at full tilt. But you do expect each church to contribute to its community by harnessing the internal strength of the church and the external energy of the community. Not a bad metaphor for us. Excepting the spreading the word bit, of course…

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