One of the main reasons that I am motivated to work in a public school or a public library is the issue of equity of access. This is an issue that I am passionate about, and one primary way that I hope to improve the world through library work. That being the case, this thread was eye-opening for me. I very much appreciated the expansion of the concept of access to include the elements of knowledge, environment, and motivation beyond the first level of access. I listened to an NPR story months ago discussing how public libraries can be so essential in times of high unemployment. Since many jobs require online applications now, members without internet access rely on their public libraries in their search for work. I was impressed enough at the fact that libraries, simply by having internet available, can play such an essential role. But this thread made me realize how much more could be done, and probably is being done in public libraries around the world. Resume-writing workshops, tips for navigating online applications, mock interviews, etc. The opportunities are nearly endless.
Which leads me to a potential problem. When I was teaching, there were constant laments from other teachers about the roles public education has been asked to take on, roles formerly filled by family and community, to do things like feed students healthy food twice a day, help students with homework, keep students safe before and after school, provide active time outside in nature, and on and on. I can see libraries faced with a similar burden. I don’t know that it is possible in terms of time and resources for libraries to provide all the services that could benefit communities. Which is where the conversation with members becomes important to prioritize key needs in the community and how to address them. Which leads me back to the mission thread.
There was one section of the thread that troubled me, and that was the section on re-thinking and expanding the definition of literacy. I completely agree that literacy, whether it is used to mean proficiency in reading printed text, ability to navigate the internet, gaming skills, or something else entirely, comes down to power. I love the idea of empowering members with literacy skills of all kinds. I also agree that librarians can do more to teach literacy rather than passively encouraging it (“Yoda says read!”) However, the departure from emphasizing the joy of reading bothered me. Yes, readers should understand the empowering nature of literacy, but I would not remove the pleasure factor from the discussion, especially for young people. The children and teens that I have worked with have not been entirely convinced by the argument that they should do such-and-so because they will need the skills in life. Maybe if it were framed in terms of power, their response would be different. But I’d hate to push reading into the same realm as long division. (Which by the way, just MIGHT benefit from some talking-up by Britney Spears!) Reading can bring great pleasure, and I think educators and librarians should continue to stress that in addition to all the empowerment aspects, by modeling their own reading for enjoyment, providing access to great books and other sources, and providing time for young people to read the materials of their choice. Despite my different take on the issue, I appreciated the reminder that a love of reading is not necessary for taking advantage of all its empowering benefits.