In December, Library Journal posted an article by Andy Woodworth, of Agnostic, Maybe, on “big tent librarianship” in their “Back Talk” column. Big tent librarianship is an idea guided by the belief that librarians, regardless of their chosen information specialization or information institution, like academic librarianship or public librarianship, are all connected by the same principles, and can enact positive change by uniting around these principles. The original article, titled “We Need Big Tent Librarianship,” is an inspiring and thought-provoking read, and to officially kick off Hack Library School, a collaboration committed to and an example of big tent librarianship, I’d like to draw on Mr. Woodworth’s ideas and relate them to library school.
When we enter library school, the divisions begin immediately. Are you a future archivist? A public librarian? A public YA librarian? While we might all begin in the same “Introduction to Information” class, confused and scared as a professor explains exactly how an antelope can be a document, our specialization quickly siphons us off into “Preservation,” “Metadata,” “Storytelling,” and “Archival Methods.” It can be hard to remember, behind our stacks of PDFs, that after “Intro to Info,” we came together and were excited, too, because what we heard resonated with something we believed– we just didn’t have the words for it yet.
And that’s what library school is. It brings together people who have a belief in the power of information, and gives us the tools and the ideas to do something concrete with that belief. How we choose to do it may look very different in the end, but that passion for information is a thread that unites us.
The “big tent” mentality must begin in library school. We must begin by challenging ourselves to reach out to those in our department, and to students at other library schools. The web has allowed for the conventional barriers of interaction to fall away, and given us the tools to somewhat define our own education. Yes, we may all have to take this class or present that paper to graduate, but interacting with fellow library school students will inform and expand our motivations and knowledge, give us new tools for advocacy, and a broader platform to advocate from, constructively criticize our own education, and offer successful solutions to other students looking for change in their own programs.
So how to do it? Read library student blogs and comment. Ask a fellow student about the paper they’re working on. Follow conference hashtags on Twitter, especially those outside your own specialty. Be aware of the achievements of your peers, not only at your own schools, but across the nation, and tell other people about it in person, on your blog. It may be difficult. We’re all so focused on being hireable, and in being as competent in our own fields as possible, these are big things to commit to. Andy Woodworth points to James Rettig’s “library ecosystem,” in which all types of libraries depend on one another. We can extend this ecosystem analogy to all the information institutions, and especially to our fellow library school students.
We are the future protectors and promoters of information access, preservation, and literacy, and so we must protect and promote one another.
Library school is the perfect place to begin to explore the possibilities that a shared passion brings. Once we graduate and move on with our careers, most of us won’t be interacting with people in information professions other than our own unless we’re proactive about it. Library school mixes us all together and exposes us to the challenges and strengths of other information professions and gives us the perfect opening to start a relationship with potential collaborators and future colleagues.
What could these partnerships look like? What could they achieve? In a society where information has become such a commodity, how could our collaborations ensure not only the existence of our professions and our institutions, but a flourishing? Quoting Hack Library School’s own “About” page, “What will the information professions be next year if we define it for ourselves today?”