My Librarian’s Code

There are a number of codes and manifestos in the library world, some of them quite good. The ALA in particular has two I really like, their Code of Ethics and their Library Bill of Rights.

I started library school fairly ignorant of the ins and outs of librarianship, but I’ve been delighted to find that as a librarian, I get to support basic principles that I really, truly believe in.  That I believe in so much sometimes I get a little choked up thinking about it.    So I’ve developed my own code, my list of library principles that I really get behind.

  1. Librarians create life long learners. At my library, a mother came in asking for help.  Her four year old couldn’t understand why certain things were small because they were small, and other things were small because they were far away (if you’ve seen the show Father Ted, you’ll understand why this was hilarious).  We the librarians tried to figure out how to explain perspective to a four year old, finding books and websites.  The mother ended up taking home a physics book with some helpful diagrams, and saying she’d use that and some anatomy textbooks to do a little more research and then sit down with her daughter.  I love this example for three reasons.  First that the library was the facilitator of this transaction.  Secondly, that it was perfectly acceptable for five librarians to spend time doing research for a four year old.  And finally, because the mom was a fantastic woman.  She acknowledged her daughter’s need for information, tried to explain, looked for help when she got stuck, and was willing to go the extra mile when the query required.  Her daughter is growing up knowing that not only are her questions about the world worthwhile, but that taking the time to find good answers is too.  I feel like this is a “make the world a better place” kind of thing, and I aspire to be like that mom.
  2. Librarians provide the flip side to Freedom of Speech.  What good is talking, if no one can listen?  Libraries provide a home for all sorts of unpopular ideas, and then librarians fight to keep them circulating.  Whether the recipient is a teenager in a bible belt town who thinks he might be gay, or a lone conservative trapped in the liberal people’s republic of Berkeley, both of these patrons can access the unpopular ideas that let them know they aren’t the only ones.  Patrons can find the comforting, the mind-blowing, the entertaining, and the educating, all under one roof.
  3. Librarians help people. That is their job.  I have seen my boss take a crazy reference question from an obvious nut-job, and treat it with the same professional care she provides to every other individual.  A lot of patrons approach the reference desk to ask “Can I ask any question?”  Yes.  You can.  You can ask any question, and we’ll try to help.  That’s the job.
  4. Librarians protect your right to privacy. Who even thinks about that nowadays?  We’ll say anything in public (particularly the public space of the internets), and we’ll type our mother’s maiden name and credit card details into anything with a text box.  But librarians worry about it.  Librarians said that the FBI didn’t have a right to seize computers to check up on patrons, fought the patriot act, and won (well, kind-of).  It’s a pretty amazing story.
  5. Librarians give you free stuff. Did you know that San Francisco Public Library card holders can access Rosetta Stone Courses online for free through the library?  Not to mention books, music, articles, movies, and homework help, generally in both electronic and regular formats.  If they don’t have it, they can probably get it for you from another library, just because you asked.  Don’t live in San Francisco?  They’ll give you a card if you live anywhere in California.  There’s lots of other great libraries too.  Probably right in your own town.   There are a couple of public library calculators which can help you figure out how much money you’ll save.  But honestly, who doesn’t like free stuff?
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