Reflection on Atlas Threads: Mission

As a brand new library student, I found the introduction to the Atlas and the first thread incredibly helpful in transforming the way I look at the field. I prepared to enter this program in the midst of a debate about artifacts: will books survive? Will new technologies replace them? How should resources be allocated to prioritize which artifacts? The first big “A-ha!” moment came for me as I read the section in the introduction that places today’s changes in the context of all the upheaval libraries have faced throughout history. Of course, libraries have weathered the advent of movable type, transformed along with the spread of public education, etc. Perhaps they aren’t doomed after all.

But libraries DO need to be flexible to continue their relevance in a rapidly changing landscape, and a clear mission can guide their transformation. Although I appreciated the clear overview of various theories that inform the library profession, the one theory that helped me the most is Conversation Theory (which I’m embarrassed to say I had never heard of before.) The philosophical shift from a focus on artifacts to a focus on interaction that leads to knowledge creation was like a lightbulb switching on for me. This helped me not only to re-frame my understanding of a librarian’s mission, but also to understand more clearly my experiences as a teacher. I became a Language Arts teacher because I loved the artifacts. I hoped that my love of literature would magically be transmitted to my students. It was only after several years of teaching that I began to realize the limitations of this focus. Without a grounding in my students’ needs and interests, and without a focus on the conversation between teacher and  students (although I wouldn’t have called it that at the time) all my love of literature was worth little. This example further illustrates the importance of a clear mission as a starting point. I now believe I began teaching with the wrong mission. I am optimistic that the same will not be true of my entry to the library field.

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