The (Real) Mission of (Teacher-) Librarians: Lankes

As another National School Library Day goes by, once again, Dr. David Lankes has inspired me on the real mission of our profession…
Above my desk at school now hangs this part of his lecture: 
The mission of librarians, the missions of you, whether you hold a Masters degree or not, whether this is a part-time job or full-time job, whether you’re doing this for extra time, I don’t care…I don’t care why you became a librarian, I don’t care if you did it because you loved books, I don’t care because you’re good at crossword puzzles, I don’t care because people said, ‘oh, you’re going to be a librarian…how did you know she loved to read as a youth’. I don’t care…you’re one now.  
And this is your mission. Your mission is not to maintain the building. Your mission is not to shelve.   Your mission isn’t even in having a building. Your mission is to improve society. How do we improve society? We do it by facilitating knowledge creation. We don’t do through circulation, we don’t do it through access. We do it by helping people learn. And sometimes that means talking to them, and sometimes that means doing things online, and sometimes that just means being an ear to listen to.  We do it in an active way, to create knowledge in our communities. 

Other people will say that these statements of improving society, this discussion…that I’m seeking to radicalize librarians…that I’m seeking to foment a revolution. Let me be very clear: they are absolutely right. I am seeking a revolution in librarianship. Not to take up arms, but to arm ourselves and our communities with knowledge. Not to overthrow the government, but to overthrow ignorance. To bring back big ideas, to talk about what we can be…

I don’t care if that victory that is small. I don’t care if the victory is that great. It is the struggle for that victory that defines our profession, that sets us apart from small ideas…that sets up apart from those who seek dollar signs instead of community improvement. 

We are a profession that is here to serve. That is an activist profession. 

…It is profession of great complexity and caring. It is a profession that is unusual in the history of mankind. For 3,000 years librarians have been debating what makes the world better, have been experimenting, have been taking the chains off the stacks, have been spreading the word, and believing in knowledge. And that discussion, that conversation, that inheritance, is now yours. 

That inheritance is now yours. What are you going to do with it? Are you going to simply continue what’s been done, because that’s not what this conversation is about. Melville Dewey and the person who took off the chains did not sit there and go, ‘this is what we’ve always done’. Instead, they said, ‘this is what we need to do’. The conversation, the power of librarianship, is not in reifying tradition, it is in tearing it down, and coming up with something better. Not to dismiss it. To understand that what we’ve done in the past was important to get us here. But it may not take us into the future.  That is the conversation that we must have, that is why we are a noble profession, and that is why we have every liberty, every right, and every obligation, to think big. 


Thanks again, Dr. Lankes. Thanks for helping me remember what fight is worth fighting.

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