I recently received an ALA Store catalog in the mail and was happily flipping through the pages, considering whether or not I should order my own supply of Love My Library buttons, when I stumbled across this t-shirt:
It has pictures of endangered animals (a giant panda, a mountain gorilla, a black rhino) and then the library symbol, the point being that libraries are endangered. I’m sorry to say it but something about this t-shirt does not sit well with me. It rings a little alarmist and reminds me of the Huffington Post “Libraries in Crisis” page which Turner Masland covered in an excellent Hack Library School post called HuffPo: Helping or Hurting?.
I’m sure the shirt was made with the best intentions and I’m all for library advocacy and spreading awareness. But I don’t think this is the right approach. In a press release from when the shirt debuted, the designer is quoted as explaining the concept as follows: “In a changing climate of funding and support, the public library is under a constant pressure that threatens its very survival. I hope this shirt is a reminder to librarians, library patrons and the public at large that the library serves as a valuable community resource for education, research, literacy and much more. If it goes away, society as a whole will be poorer for its loss.”
I agree with that sentiment completely. Libraries are facing tough times and building awareness of their value and services is a great way to combat negativity and dwindling funds. However, when I look at this shirt, the outlook is bleak. There is nothing about how libraries are a “valuable community resource for education, research, literacy, and much more.” There is only the sentiment that libraries are dying, going out of business, becoming extinct. This is not a positive message of awareness.
As burgeoning LIS professionals who are getting ready to strike out into the world, all the while struggling with how to perceive ourselves and how to present ourselves, I don’t think this is the message we should be sending. Or, at the very least, it’s not the message that I want to be sending.
What do you all think? Is this shirt helping or hurting? What kinds of library advocacy do you participate in? What kinds of messages do you think we should be sending out into the world about libraries and their value?