If you’re wondering where this whole “Part 2” business is coming from since you don’t remember Part 1, don’t be alarmed. It all goes back to October 2015 when watching a Harry Potter movie marathon on TV inspired some librarian-ish thoughts. I posted Part 1 (check it out here) and did actually write most of Part 2 back then, as well, but I just realized today that I never finished it. So, here it is, three years later…
Now that I’m looking at the wizarding world through the lens of librarianship, I see the movies, especially Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in a new light. In The Atlas of New LibrarianshipDavid Lankes proposes that:
The mission of librarians is to improve society by facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.
Certainly, improving society by facilitating knowledge creation can be accomplished in any number of worthy professions, but I believe it’s a special province of librarians. And who do you think improves wizarding society the most by facilitating knowledge creation in the Hogwarts community? I’ll give you points for answering Professor Lupin or Harry himself. But really the most new-librarianish (yes, it’s a real word, damned spell-check) individual in the story is Hermione Granger, and not because she’s always in the library.
recognizes a need in her community: to learn Defense Against the Dark Arts in practice rather than just in theory.
knows the limits of her own knowledge and skills. As clever as she is, she can’t teach her fellow students everything they need or want to know.
identifies an appropriate resource (i.e. Harry) who can meet the need of the student community in question.
invites members of the community to gather at the Hog’s Head Tavern during a convenient time (i.e. Hogsmeade Weekend) to gauge their interest and provide a basic framework for future group meetings and conversations.
And the rest is history! Hermione is a community-focused facilitator of knowledge creation and the result of her work is the improvement of society in which Dumbledore’s Army kicks some Death Eater arse bottom. Librarians in the Muggle real world should look to Hermione as an example to emulate when trying to engage with their own communities.
Know what makes me happy? Stories about librarianship changing lives for the positive.
Know what makes me sad? Stories about libraries falling down on the job.
Of course, I’d prefer to share the former type of story on my blog. My purpose, after all, is to promote all kinds of librarianish goodness that I encounter while pursuing my adventures. But I think it’s also important to remember that librarians make mistakes and examining those mistakes can be a learning experience. So, I’ll share a tale of library failure in the hope that I won’t make the same mistake if I’m ever in a similar situation.
In researching ways that public libraries support the health and wellness needs of their communities, I came across A Pilot Study of Health Information Resource Use in Rural Public Libraries in Upstate New York by Mary Grace Flaherty and Michael E. Luther from 2011. (Unless you have access to the scholarly journal Public Library Quarterly, you’ll probably only be able to see the article’s abstract, but not the full text. Sorry about that, but I’ll do my best to summarize.) I was particularly interested in this study because I live in rural upstate New York and am generally very pleased with the services I receive at my own public libraries. I was expecting to read good things.
In their study, Flaherty and Luther sent recent graduates of a Master’s of Science in Library and Information Science program into 10 libraries to ask the reference question, “Do vaccines cause autism?” The point of this was to discover what kinds of health information resources the library staff would point the questioners towards. What the researchers found was that in only two cases out of 10 did library staff provide material from credible sources that actually addressed the question asked. In eight of the 10 cases, library staff provided material that did not even answer the question. Resources provided were often out of date or non-authoritative, and some were anecdotal and non-scientific materials that warned of the dangers of vaccines, rather than information from current, reputable, medically-based sources.
Think about that for a second… 80% of libraries did not provided resources that addressed the question that was asked. That’s an astounding failure rate. It’s especially concerning if you consider the trust that people place in their libraries when seeking health-related information. According to a Pew Research Center article, “73% of all [people surveyed] ages 16 and over say libraries contribute to people finding the health information they need.” Patrons are relying on library staff to guide them to appropriate resources to answer their health-related questions and (at least in the case of the Flaherty & Luther study) 80% of libraries are letting them down.
I know the sample of size of this study – 10 public libraries – is very small and generalizations cannot be made from it about all public libraries. I know the article reporting on the study is from 2011. Maybe things have changed for the better since then. It’s also worth pointing out that the people asking the questions in this study were library students who presumably knew how to find answers from credible sources on their own. But I’m disappointed to think of all the patrons who may not be getting good information when they visit those eight problematic upstate libraries.
Since I hope someday to work at an upstate New York public library, what lessons will I take away from this situation so that I don’t do what other library staff did?
Of course, I’m going to remember that I am a librarian and not a healthcare provider, so I won’t offer medical advice, but point patrons towards reliable resources that can help answer their health-related questions.
If I’m the one answering reference questions, I’m going to make damned sure to direct patrons to up-to-date, credible resources. Off the top of my head, I’d probably make MedlinePlus my first stop in directing people to health-related information, since it’s run by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
It’s probably worth checking out the new Libraries Transform Health Literacy Toolkit from the American Library Association and National Network of Libraries of Medicine. I’d hope this would help me learn about other current, authoritative sources of health information that I could use in my work.
If I’m the library director and not the one answering reference questions directly, I’ll develop a library policy regarding answering health questions and encourage and empower my staff to learn which resources are preferable to others for this purpose.
Now that I’ve pontificated for a bit, I’d like to hear from you. Have you ever sought health information from your local public library? Were you happy with the answer you received? What resources do you use when you have a health-related question? How do you know they’re authoritative?
It’s been 2 years since I last published a post here. I didn’t mean for it to be so long but I had a massive case of writer’s block, and then got so focused on life and school that I forgot for a while that I even had a blog.
But today I remembered my promise to myself… to chronicle my adventures through library school and beyond, and hopefully to enlighten and amuse some readers on the way.
So, where do things stand right now? I am still at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies (a.k.a. the iSchool) working on my Master’s of Science in Library and Information Science (a.k.a. MS LIS) degree on a part-time basis. I should receive my degree in May 2020.
I also work part-time with Associate Professor of Practice Jill Hurst-Wahl on projects related to the new iSchool Public Library Initiative (more on this later).
I’ve made it through the following classes:
IST 511 – Introduction to the Library and Information Profession
IST 605 – Reference and Information Literacy Services
IST 613 – Library Planning, Marketing, and Assessment
IST 618 – Information Policy
And I’m currently taking:
IST 616 – Information Resources: Organization and Access
IST 635 – Collection Development and Access
I’m not sure yet how often I’ll be blogging, but my tentative plan is once a week or so.