curiosity


Philosophy of Librarianship

I still recall that a part of graduating from the education department at my undergrad institution included writing a strong philosophy of education. After all of the education classes, the analysis of education, the observations, the reflections, and my own student teaching, I still felt as though my educational philosophy was evolving and changing, so I was not completely happy with the outcome. True to life, my thoughts and feelings about education have grown as I’ve learned more and observed the ebb and flow of educational trends.

When I was asked to write a Statement of Professional Philosophy for my MLIS Plan B, I again felt shifting ideas brushing into each other as I considered what I should write. I finally decided to distill the three most important aspects of librarianship that I hope I have continually embodied even before obtaining my MLIS and that I hope to continue to embody as I move forward in my career.

Three values have cropped up over and over in my employment history: ensuring access to education, helping those who need assistance, and making information easy to access and understand. My undergraduate work was in English education with a minor in Spanish, and it was at my alma mater that I met Dr. Patricia Newcomer (AKA Doña Patricia) my first library mentor who also happened to be my advanced Spanish professor. When I graduated, Doña Patricia encouraged me to continue on and to obtain a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I, in my less than infinite wisdom, instead chose to go immediately into the working world.

Doña Patricia passed away shortly after I graduated, so I am sad to say that she will never see her hopes for me come to fruition. However, it is clear that she and the other librarians at my college’s library, where I worked for four straight years, have had a profound effect on my mental view of and development into a librarian. Beyond all of the mundane, technical tasks that were completed in that library, the ideals of education and assistance as well as warmth and kindness were taught to me on a daily basis. Being a librarian and an information professional means being open, inviting, giving, and helpful. Why else would a person go into a professional that prides itself on service to all and includes diversity among its chief values and goals for growth?

In the preface of his forthcoming book, Dr. Michael Stephens (2016) wrote the following words, words that have the ring of authority and the air of truth about them:

For me, the heart of librarianship is learning. It’s a cyclical process of support, engagement, and discovery with deep roots in the concepts of service, access, and freedom to pursue interests of all kinds. No matter what type of institution, someone is gaining knowledge, finding information, or creating something new based on our facilitation. And in my opinion, the role of facilitator and guide is best delivered with humanity and heart.

 

Libraries encourage the heart, which means we should lead from the heart, learn from the heart, and play from the heart. It means we are all-in all the time, not just when it’s convenient. It means bucking the status quo to do the right thing at the right moment. It means owning our actions as professionals. It means creating institutions that expand minds and craft futures. (pp. xiii-xiv)

These words of Dr. Stephens show a spirit of openness that librarians need to remain true to the value of service that our professional prides itself on. I am currently working with Dr. Stephens on a special studies section this semester, and viewing his work and his ethic has helped further solidify my own feelings about several important characteristics that I feel an information professional should have.

Curiosity

How anyone could become a librarian without having an indefatigable sense of curiosity and an overwhelming urge to always be learning is incomprehensible to me. From the time I was a young child, I have been curious about how things work and how to help things work better. I am quite lucky that my parents allowed and cultivated this sense of curiosity by allowing me to take things apart, put things together, and read whatever I could get my hands on. Curiosity is one of the essential traits that all information professionals must have and must continue to cultivate throughout their lives.

We information professionals should be seeking curiosity in its many incarnations. Education never stops, and reading is an important part of this ongoing, adult education. Technology is changing at a rapid pace, and emerging technologies are coming along quickly. Asking ourselves questions and being able to find the answers quickly and efficiently will only allow us to learn more and to help others learn as well. If we aren’t curious and aren’t willing to ask questions and to seek the answers, how can we expect our patrons and users to do so?

When I was a Fall 2014 LIBR 203 Peer Mentor, I wrote a blog post titled “Curiosity and the Information Professional.” I still firmly believe everything I wrote in that post, including the following important points:

Dig in! Don’t be afraid! If you can’t figure something out, ask someone who might know or even Google it. As future information professionals, curiosity is our calling and finding out new and helpful information is our trademark.

 

Remember, curiosity didn’t really kill the cat. And even though what he was curious about just might have (it was probably a venomous snake or something), technology doesn’t have that power and won’t strike, so go ahead and seek more information and gather more data. Curiosity is knowledge-seeking, which isn’t such a bad trait in a librarian. (para. 11-12)

In fact, I would argue that it’s not just a good trait for information professionals: it’s essential.

Inclusivity

Diversity and inclusivity go hand in hand throughout the world, whether you are a library professional or not. That said, librarians are on the front lines of ensuring access to all, no matter a person’s socioeconomic status, race, religion, gender, and so on. Education and information are extremely important to ensure the growth of our profession and to help each person with her/his own personal educational goals.

I am disappointed to live in a country that does not prize learning a second language from childhood, because I feel that this is an important part of helping others feel included. I myself began learning Spanish in high school, minored in it for my undergraduate degree, and took the Advanced Spanish for Librarians course while at SJSU to help refresh my skills and to learn the library-specific language and jargon that I may need in a professional capacity. Although it is not possible to learn every language that we may find ourselves needing, learning even one additional language means that we can reach and help more people. In such a global society, it becomes even more important to open ourselves up to new experiences, different cultures, and differing ideas. F. Scott Fitzgerald (2005) once wrote (oddly enough, in the same essay in which he would also later describe some of his own prejudices) the following:

[L]et me make a general observation – the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. (p. 139)

This seems to be a great description of what librarians should strive to do: maintain as many ideas, opposed or similar, as possible to help all who come seeking assistance without regard to any supposed differences. We are not called to believe all of the ideas or to hold any specific, but we are called to move beyond the mere idea of tolerance to a far greater respect and empathy for our fellow human being—to becoming advocates for the unheard and voiceless in our communities.

Empathy

Empathy requires each of us to gain the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to move beyond our own feelings to hopefully better gauge what someone else is possibly feeling and thinking. Dialogue with others and self-reflection are key first steps on the road to empathy. “It has been shown that empathy plays a clear role in facilitating more effective communication between library staff and users, whether or not English is their first language” (Birdi, Wilson, & Tso, 2009, p. 87).

What do our patrons need and want from us? What are the needs of our surrounding community, and how can we fulfill those needs to the best of our ability? This can and will differ in each community: it will depend greatly on the makeup of your surrounding community and the needs of the people who use our facilities and services. I believe that this is a circle of knowledge that needs to be consistently monitored to ensure that the library is offering services that the community needs in order to fulfill and help plug any holes in community services that can be provided by the library.

Librarians are, without a doubt, ensconced within a helping profession. Altruism and a desire to meet people where they are coming from are essential requirements for a truly empathetic nature, so keeping current with social justice issues along with a knowledge of local community needs and issues is required to ensure our ability to meet those needs and to address those issues in our own communities.

References

Birdi, B., Wilson, K., & Tso, H.M (2009) The nature and role of empathy in public librarianship. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 41(2), pp. 81-89. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0961000609102827

Fitzgerald, F. S. (2005). My lost city: Personal essays, 1920-1940. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Stephens, M. (2016). The heart of librarianship: Attentive, positive, and purposeful change. Chicago, IL: ALA Editions.


Curiosity and the Information Professional

I just posted this on my LIBR 203 Peer Mentor blog, but I thought it was important enough for all people (not just those in the information professions) to cross-post to my personal blog.

One of the most important things I was ever told about technology came when I was in eighth grade and my family was getting our first computer: “Don’t be afraid of it, ever.” Don’t be afraid of your computer or technology or what it can do. Never fear it.

I took this to heart, and even about 20 years later, I still rarely see new technology as something to be feared. Instead, I see it as fun, perhaps as a game to figure out. Maybe I’m lucky because I can easily pick up new things and figure them out quickly, but I still think it goes back to that very first real beginning of starting up that computer, seeing the DOS prompt, and going about my business of figuring out how to navigate my new tool.

Because that’s what technology is and should be: a tool for us to accomplish something. Whether that is fun and games, social interaction, or even actual work, it’s still a tool that we need to interact with to figure out how to make it work for us.

One of the first things I do when I start using a new program (or online tool or, really, anything on my computer) is to visit the preferences to figure out how to configure the tool to work best for my personal tastes. I just realized recently that this isn’t common sense or second nature to most people, so this realization was actually the catalyst for this post. How can we make something work best for us? The first step should always be to find out what it can do in order to figure out how to best set it up for our own benefit. Every well-laid-out program will have preferences to help us customize it in some way to our own tastes and requirements.

First things first! Immediately find the preferences section and set about trying to find out what the program can actually do before using it to see if you want to change any settings. If, as you go along, you decide you don’t like something, you will already know if there is a setting that will allow you to change it to something that is more helpful to you.

Another thing I often do is to find new tools just so I can learn more about them. This gives me a broader range of knowledge about certain types of products in general and has the added benefit of giving me more information about several specific programs within that category. For example, there are so many options available for web browsers, so I make sure to install and use several over time. At home, I currently have installed Internet Explorer (which I rarely use due to some severe deficits on its part), Opera Next, Google Chrome, Chrome Canary (beta version that can be installed side-by-side with Chrome), Firefox, and Waterfox (64-bit, open-source browser based on Firefox, but not an official product of Mozilla). At work I have all of the above except IE and Waterfox, but with the addition of Safari (because I use a Mac at work). All of them are used in fairly regular rotation (with the aforementioned exception of IE) — in part to keep my skills sharp, but mostly so I can be sure I’m regularly using the ones that are most helpful to me. Right now, I’m using Chrome (for school) and Firefox (for personal browsing and at work) most often, although I did just switch everything up from Canary or Opera Next for school, Chrome for work, and Waterfox for personal about a month ago.

This is just one example of doing something to widen my range of knowledge, but it shows a bit of what I’m talking about. Sometimes we need to experience something new just for the sake of finding out if it’s worth switching to or if it’s something that just isn’t right for us (right now — it never hurts to go back to it every so often to see if it has more features that you need at a later date). In addition — and perhaps more importantly — looking at a range of items in a particular category widens my own knowledge. Many items will work very similarly, and when I use more of a type of an item, I begin to see those similarities. I will be able to see what features I like in one that another doesn’t have, but I will also be able to compare and contrast more readily. I don’t like to become entrenched in one thing, be it a brand or a company or even a browser. To me that is part of what an information professional’s natural curiosity should be seeking: more information about a wide variety of productions to be able to help others make their own decisions and come to their own conclusions.

This skill is highly transferable to many types of work. In most of my jobs, I have worked with some type of database. No two jobs have had the same database, and some jobs came with needing to learn and use multiple databases regularly. To me, this isn’t a difficult task, because many things about databases are pretty similar and seem intuitive after I became familiar with my first one. I know this isn’t something that everyone picks up immediately, but I can say that the more you jump in and start to play with the new program at your fingertips, the more you will begin to understand it — and what it can do for you.

It all comes back to this: don’t fear your technology, whether it’s new to you or seemingly old and familiar. Always be willing to learn something new about it and never assume you know everything already. I am always updating my browsers, for example, with new extensions or add-ons to help me use them more efficiently. At work, I’m always excited about database updates on all of the ones I use, because I hope it will have new features to allow me to do my job more effectively. (I actually will be able to use a new learning management system very soon at work, and I couldn’t be more excited about that. After digging into both the student and the teacher side of Canvas here at SJSU’s iSchool as a peer mentor, I can’t wait to compare it to the new LMS I’ll be using at work.)

Dig in! Don’t be afraid! If you can’t figure something out, ask someone who might know or even Google it. As future information professionals, curiosity is our calling and finding out new and helpful information is our trademark.

Remember, curiosity didn’t really kill the cat. And even though what he was curious about just might have (it was probably a venomous snake or something), technology doesn’t have that power and won’t strike, so go ahead and seek more information and gather more data. Curiosity is knowledge-seeking, which isn’t such a bad trait in a librarian.