Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Librarian Mystics

Nearly all of the librarians I know are mystics at heart. This is not about any particular religious denomination; we are still contrarians, remember? Library mysticism is a lot like yoga: it is simple and profound at the same time. It is the unity of everyday and the timeless.

Librarians are about getting the information to the patron, in whatever format works. Yet, we have endless debates about the meaning and effect of the format and what it means for the future of libraries and our field of law.

Librarians are about balancing the budget and still getting the materials our primary users need most. Yet, we have endless discussions about how to balance our collections and, again, formats, licensing, copyrights, interlibrary loan. Philosophy and long-term forecasting underlies a lot of what we talk about and plan about, and kvetch about.

More than this, there is a distinctive ethos to librarianship. My son is very into computer science and enjoys sharing message board chats with me from IT help desks. The tone could not be more different from the tone of reference librarians. I have never heard reference or circulation librarians, even in off hours, in a bar, at a conference, put down patron questions the way these IT help desk guys put down their patrons. They think it's terribly witty. I think it's cruel and unthinking. They don't remember a time when they did not understand something and somebody had to help them understand. That, in a nutshell, is why we have to keep libraries as a distinct and lively part of our community. And, it's the heart of library mysticism.

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