If you ever worked the front lines of a library like I have, you’ll know that some customers have their favorites. It’s as if they want to have their own configuration settings for their librarians, so that when they walk in, the librarian has what they want when they want it. They don’t even have to ask for their daily news — they just get it without even having to say “thank you.”
And if you happen to not have the right settings, the customer will say, “No, I don’t want you . . . I want the ‘Other Librarian.'” It’s nothing personal, the customer has just massaged one of your colleagues into the perfect librarian for them. If you give it time, you’ll be the “Other Librarian” too.
Well, as it turns out, technology is making it easier and easier for customers to have their “Other Librarian” without ever even asking for it. Social software is a good example. There are millions of millions of “Other Librarians” just waiting to guide you to the lastest greatest thing. Most are not even professionals, but for some things they are as good or better than the professional.
Wikipedia, flickr and bibliophil are the equivalent of a Voltron of “Other Librarians.” (For those of you from another generation, Voltron is a hero-robot that is created by the joining of a series of smaller units. The smaller units were all quite mighty on their own, but Voltron always finished off the bad guy). Access to information is pretty close to a given with these gargantuae beholding our knowledge.
“Other librarians” are not necessarily tech-related, however. Community movements are producing extremely interesting ways of accessing knowledge as well. Using methods such as World Cafe, Open Space and Appreciative Inquiry, inspiring individuals are engaging local citizens to mine resources that exists in communities to help them solve their own problems in ways that are socially responsible, environmentally friendly and sustainable. Ironically, these community leaders are often found in libraries without the librarians even knowing they exist. The “Other Librarian” is sitting in a place that is not behind the desk.
On first examination, you might think I am saying that technology and community movements are a threat to non-Other librarians. If people want “The Other” librarian, what does that mean for the librarians who are not “Other?” Being rejected in favor of another is always a blow to the ego. But wait — the Other Librarian is also an opportunity.
For me it is a goal. I want to be “The Other Librarian” and this blog is how I am going to manifest myself as one. It is my opportunity to reflect on myself as librarian from an outside perspective and I hope you would like to join me in my journey.
For starters, when I think about how technology makes access to information a given, I think also about the divide between those who can access technology and those who cannot for whatever reasons (disabilities, economic status, knowledge of tools etc.). When I think about community movements, I wonder what role public libraries can play in helping communities access the sorts of leaders that can engage citizens to solve problems for themselves (As an aside, I also think Michael Gorman is missing something very important when he emphasizes recorded knowledge in his discussions about librarian education).
There are other issues as well. For one, I would like to discuss my successes and trials in becoming “The Other Librarian.”