Sometimes, it’s not as important to have all the answers as it is to raise questions about what you can do differently or better. During this crucial era for library sciences, progressive librarians are raising numerous questions about how librarians do their job. Regardless of whether or not librarians find themselves compelled by the progressive trend, considering these questions can help them better address their own jobs.
“I think libraries are positioned within our society to be a place where we can engage in conversations about what it is we’re facing,” says Elaine Harger, cofounder of the Progressive Librarians Guild. “We have the responsibility to invite people to think about the bigger issues.”
What’s the role of neutrality?
Traditionally, librarians have worked to maintain a neutral stance, but progressive librarians are questioning just how important this is. When interacting with people, Harger says, neutrality is still valuable. When it comes to resources like time, space and money, however, neutrality isn’t as high a priority as the quality of the resource. Progressive librarians are rethinking how acquisitions happen, and why.
Also, when conducting classes for students and faculty, progressive librarians might guide them toward cross-disciplinary research. For example, they might encourage business-ethics students to also seek sources on environmental issues, instead of simply guiding them to the business databases.
What kinds of ideas can we exchange with researchers?
Similarly, progressive librarians might also provide researchers who visit them with different perspectives for their situation. They might seek ways to be more actively involved in the research process, by engaging researchers with different ideas or suggestions for additional types of sources they might use.
To cite the example above, they might direct a business-ethics researcher to business databases, but also suggest a number of sources from other fields, including environmental sciences.
“They might ask questions or make suggestions that could cause the researchers to think a little more deeply, or from the perspective of what the purpose of the research was going to be,” says Harger.
What small things can we do to guide people to new ideas?
Progressive librarians seek ways to engage students and faculty with ideas, and that can take place on a small scale as well as on a larger one. Something as simple as how books are arranged can have a profound impact on the kinds of information people seek, and progressive librarians look for ways to continuously guide people to new ideas.
In short, progressive librarians constantly explore [ways] to use their skills to interact with people differently and help them engage with material in new, deeper or more interdisciplinary ways to reach new conclusions. They look at everything they do and ask how they can engage people more effectively with it.
“Librarians take great pride in being the people who are at the intersection of knowledge and the questions people have,” says Harger. “What we have standing behind us is the knowledge of all humanity, and yet we haven’t used it in a way in which we’ve changed our actions.”