The following was written as the introduction to the Recirculated ebook of transcripts by Dr. R. David Lankes. Dave has been a big supporter of the show over the years and has given his permission to re-run this essay here for the fifth anniversary of the show.
I have the sometimes pleasure of writing introductions for books. I say sometimes, because frankly some of the pieces I have been invited to introduce have not been very good or exciting. You see the role of the introduction is like that of a keynote at a conference. You should set some themes, provide points to think about, and provoke conversation (often with little nuance).
The danger is that you often agree to write an introduction months before there is a text to introduce. So it can be uncomfortable to get the text and have a hard time finding anything to say. This is not the case here. Not only have I been a long time listener of Circulating Ideas, I find this work very very important.
This work is important for several reasons. It contains the thoughts of great librarians. It provides details on important projects and efforts. It provides a humanity to figures many of us know primarily through tweets, speeches, and articles. It is important because it adds depth and nuance to ideas bandied about the profession from advocacy, to learning, to graduate education, to reader’s advisory, to the ALA presidency.
Yes, all of that is important. If you were to ask Steve why he thought it was important, he would most likely cite those reasons. He would say it is because of the people he interviews, typically undervaluing his role and the most important thing this book, and the Circulating Ideas podcast represent: hope.
Hope for what? Hope for the profession. Circulating ideas is a testament to the belief that the field of librarianship is important, and will prevail through budget cuts, and annoyed professionals, and the myriad of snipes and limited visions put forth. Steve has not simply sat down with anyone available via Skype. He has created an ongoing curated conversation about a bright future for the profession.
It is always dangerous to use the phrase “the future of librarianship.” To many those are code words for lofty conversations disconnected from the realities of the field. The future of libraries has become the domain of prophetic futurists, glossy publications destined for a shelf, or a catch all for technological determinists convinced the latest gadget will save us. These are not traps into which Circulating Ideas fall.
The libraries and librarianship Steve has crafted here needs no saving. The librarianship Steve has documented is alive. It is strongly connected to the values of the past, the work of the present, and the firm belief in a better tomorrow. In these episodes and transcripts you will hear voices of people who know what they do is important and are happy to be a part of it. Steve talks to advocates, scholars, practitioners, and more that are actively making libraries and librarianship relevant.
This very book is a result of Steve exploring crowdfunding, self-publishing, and distributed networks of expertise. Steve would make a great guest on his own show, and yet he too readily disappears into a series of questions that spotlight his guests. He too often equates the importance of this work with download numbers. Those numbers are a minor metric when compared to the voices he has assembled.
So, to the reader I take the privilege of an introduction writer and assign you a task. Read these transcripts. Learn from the voices. Then step back, learn from the whole Circulating Ideas project, and make your own statement. Make a podcast, or a blog, or a book, or an opera. Make something that highlights how the work you and your peers do help today’s communities. Yes listen to Buffy, and John, and even the Annoyed Librarian (who wasn’t that annoying in this interview). But model your reactions on Steve. Steve, a library branch manager who on his own time decided to be a part of the future of the profession. Crowdsource, experiment, call upon friends call upon your heroes, and call upon voices big and small to curate your own vision of the future.
Our profession is too important and stretched too thin to simply be a reader or listener of Circulating Ideas. We must all join the effort to push the whole field forward. Expect it of yourself, and expect it of those around you. Don’t sit idly by as your co-workers paint dismal pictures of the future of your institution and profession. Be the voice of optimism and hope.
Embrace the idea that librarian are makers. We are stewards of community resources. That means we are much more than objective functionaries that use taxes/tuition/overhead/client funds to buy stuff and shelve it (physically or virtually). We are active parts of the community charged with crafting the story of the community. We feed that story through resources. We house that story in our buildings and web sites. We explore and add depth to that story through programs and often uncomfortable conversations. Our true collection is the community, and the purpose of that collection is learning.
Librarians are makers and educators. We are the stewards of the communities knowledge and understanding of the world around them. Our charge is well represented in the title of Steve’s podcast: we circulate ideas. Get to it.