A Reflection on the Library as My System of Interest

Note: This is a reflection post for LTEC 6250.

My system of interest is the library, which has also been my career field for nearly twenty years now. I started library school after a year of working in a terrible job directly out of college (customer service). I spent that year examining what I really wanted to do, knowing that I wanted to get a master’s degree. After reading many job descriptions and looking through pages of job ads (the Internet was not quite the place yet for job hunting), I zeroed in on librarianship because it seemed to be a good aptitude fit—I had always been an asker and a finder and the person who did all the research in group assignments in my undergraduate years. And it turned out that I would indeed be a very good fit for the library system.

Libraries matter to me because they matter to their users. I learned that lesson during my internship at an academic library while in library school. One day I helped a young woman find medical research that supported her suspicion that a medication she was taking was causing additional medical problems. It was a simple reference transaction, and she appeared satisfied with the information I found for her. Several months later, as I was walking into work, she approached me again and told me that I had saved her life. Apparently, the doctor read the articles that I had found her and made the decision to change her medication. That changed her life, and her gratitude toward the little role I played in it changed my life. From a systems perspective, I helped return function to this young woman’s own system through my role as a librarian. As a result, I came to realize that libraries are intricately connected to the larger life world. It’s an important relationship.

That perspective may also be a bias—I will always see the value in libraries even when others do not, and I will always be an advocate for libraries. That being said, after stepping away from librarianship these last few years to write a book and pursue my PhD, I find that I can be more objective about libraries as systems. Objectivity is much more difficult to achieve when working in a library because it is difficult to see the bigger picture. Stepping away from library work to become a librarian educator has enabled me to see the bigger picture of the library and its place in the larger systems that it supports. Learning how to conduct and interpret research has also given me the ability to apply concepts of librarianship within the bigger picture and see the flaws that exist in current library systems. As a result, I have become as much a critic about library systems as I am an advocate; and my advocacy has turned toward improving the systemic problems that currently exist in libraries rather than blindly supporting them.

One systemic problem I would like to fix comes from the lag in the library school curriculum in preparing school and academic librarians for roles in instructional design and technology. Right now, librarians in the field are trying to fill their own skills gaps through personal learning networks and continuing education. Unfortunately, that solution has created more problems because the people who are doing the teaching are not always experts themselves (more often, they are amateur ‘experts’). That can result in the blind leading the blind with decision making that creates a ripple effect of problems for the larger systems they serve (e.g., adopting approaches that have little to no support in the research, like SAMR).

 

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