September 29, 2006

Libraries & Librarians

Chet Raymo in his excellent Science Musings blog quotes the inscription on the facade of one of the Boston Public Library buildings:"The commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty." A nice sentiment, highlighting our roles as educators and also of education itself as a fundamental requirement for a free and open society. Raymo goes on to say, "So hopeful, so liberal, was the generous spirit evinced by the embellishments of the building that I was almost moved to tears. How proud to be part of that tradition, even as a spectator." Now, as a Professor Emeritus at Stonehill College, Raymo is probably being a bit modest counting himself as a mere spectator in that tradition, and I hope that we as librarians see ourselves as more that just spectators in the educational process. We must make sure we continue to work in that tradition and to find our role as the traditional means and methods of education change. At the same time, we must always put our values of public service to the forefront of what we do.

In that spirit, I was struck by a job ad brought to my attention by one of my colleagues at York, Mark Robertson. Chief Librarian, Detainee Library, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba:

In managing the Detainee Library, the Chief Librarian is responsible for providing, maintaining and developing library services and operations using reading, recreational games and puzzles, music, or electronic media. The Chief Librarian is responsible for selecting and maintaining a range of reading and recreational materials to reflect the needs of the patrons in terms of languages and appropriate/approved topics.


To be successful in this job, the Chief Librarian will need to be creative, adaptable, ambitious and resourceful.
I guess librarians end up in a lot of different places, doing a lot of different jobs. Given the current situation, I find myself at a complete loss to form any rational thought about the posting. Doing a librarian's job in such a situation seems impossible, yet the detainees certainly deserve to have the service available.

It's also worth noting that it's ALA's Banned Books Week. Libraries, of course, have a roll in making sure that their patrons have free and open access to their collections, without outside interference.
BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.
Google, of course, was quite active in promoting BBW, quite ironic considering their China policies. We should all try and watch out for our own biases, wrong-headed compromises and hypocracies and remember that our primary mission is to serve our patrons.

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