Monday, September 2, 2013

Librarians Are NOT Knowledge Keepers - Pass It On.

meme**
noun
  1. 1.
    an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.
    • a humorous or inspirational image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.
    Origin
    1970s: from Greek mimÄ“ma ‘that which is imitated,’ on the pattern of gene .

Some of my favorite memes are in the fake Ryan Gosling quotes regarding libraries and librarians.  I can't hear the words "Hey girl..." without thinking of them. (Not that I hear those words a lot, mind you.)  The interwebs are full of memes and just like everything else online, some are awesome, some are not and some are just plain inaccurate.

That said, I've been seeing a lot of the inspirational quote type memes lately all referencing librarians as "knowledge keepers."  The gist of the quote being something like  "Librarians are the keeper of knowledge." Followed by another sentence or two explaining that this is why we should value them.  I can't share the original author(s) of the quote, as the memes I've seen attribute it to various people.  (See my comment about inaccuracy above), but it's clear that whoever said it and those who share it, both love libraries and librarians. What's more, the intent of the meme, I have no doubt, is to send the message that we are indeed a noble and valuable breed.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is the message this quote sends at all, because it implies that our value lies in the fact that we stand between the patrons we serve and the information they need.  It implies that without us, there is no access.  And not only is that kind of creepy and authoritative, but it's also (and more significantly), just plain wrong.  Our patrons (be they students for the k-12+ crowd or the general public for my public library friends) access information 24/7 and most of the time they do it without us.  Perhaps there was a time when librarians held the key to unlocking access to information, but that time is no more.  Which begs the question:

If librarians are knowledge keepers, but people no longer need librarians to access knowledge, are librarians still necessary?

The answer can only be yes if we shed the label of knowledge keeper and earn one of knowledge builder.

Librarians aren't valuable because we know how to checkout books (a skill, by the way, that most kindergarteners can master). We are valuable because we help others discover their inner reader.

Librarians aren't valuable because we hold the password to subscription databases.  We are valuable because we teach others how to evaluate information.

Librarians aren't valuable because we've organized all the books using a system that only we understand.  We're valuable to because we cultivate environments in which others can use existing knowledge to create new knowledge, new information and new ideas. 

In short, it's not about what we keep.  It's about what we (help) build.

So, to that end, I decided to make my own meme (using an app called visual poetry).  A counter point to the knowledge keeper one which, although good intentioned, sends the wrong the message - both to those who struggle to understand what we do and those who struggle to let go of the idea that their jobs are still about stuff.

cc high res img src: http://bit.ly/135Aqw1


As always, feel free to use and share.



**A VERY geeky aside: I found this definition of meme by typing "define: meme" into the address bar on chrome. I really enjoyed its emphasis on the non genetic transference, but more than that, I was really intrigued by the statement that the word meme originated in the 1970s.  I was kind of oscillating between the notion that meme was a very recent addition to the dictionary or that it had been around for a long time, but meant something else.  That said, a quick search of Ngram, (which is one of my very favorite new research tools/internet toys), showed its steady use in printed text since the 1800s.  Of course, Ngram does not account for changes in the word's definition, but I still thought that was pretty cool.

7 comments:

  1. Love it, Jennifer! That's what is great about librarians-we cannot keep much to ourselves-we love to share, teach, inspire! Thanks!

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  2. Love Love Love! Your posters going up on my wall at work :)

    #librarianpride

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  3. Brilliant. I couldn't have put it better myself. Your inspiring poster is being laminated as I write. Thanks.

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  4. Love this! Just posted your image on the Special Libraries Association (SLA) FB page to go out to all our members.

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  5. Love knowing about Ngram and I really enjoyed your article! Thanks!

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