Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Informing in Public

Today was a very Portland day - skies of various shades of grey and various levels of moisture falling from the sky. I continued my afternoon in a very Portland fashion - taking public transport to the Central Branch of Multnomah County Library. For a project on collection development, my partner and I are looking at how to provide an awesome collection to community-based recycling nonprofits in Portland (yes, we found that niche and we are working it). Central boasts a Foundation Center sponsored Nonprofit Resource Center. While it was a much smaller section of the reference section than I expected , it was still a wonderful grouping of otherwise very expensive grant materials and other guides. If you are a nonprofit in Portland, check it out. The librarians at the nearby desk are a great resource as well.

I should qualify that the section was probably smaller than I expected because I have spent far too much time in academic libraries, especially private institutions where the acqusitions budget is generous and consortia/ILL borrowing is plentiful and free to staff. For a library tech/future librarian, I'm a horrible public library user. My local library is a quick walk away, but I rarely go. The hours don't work that well for me and I really don't feel the need to go since I realized that ILL will borrow from that very branch if I need it. I feel I should be using the local library as a way to show my support since I don't pay property taxes or however public libraries are funded in Oregon... see, I don't even know that! Brushing aside a lame excuse like "the wrong hours", I really wasn't a fan of the public library atmosphere. The short video I posted a few days ago lists liking people as one of the main requirements of being a librarian. But I'm sort of ambivalent on that matter. I like the people at my academic library and I don't think I could cope with the variety of life that needs and uses a public library. I often think of public librarians as having the same sort of calling as a priest. They're willing to go out there and give and give to a insane range of people and cope with situations that would challenge a social worker. I admire the members of my cohort who have already decided to pursue this sort of work. It's just not work that I could see myself doing.

But I do need to say that it truly is important work. My first library job was in a small public library. My mother took us weekly to our local branch (where I'm pretty sure I checked out the same biography of Sitting Bull 30 times between the ages of 7 and 12. I had a mad fascination for him and Custer), just as her mother took her. My absolute fear of people (and my mother's own avoidance if possible) lead me to learning as much as I could about how to find and use materials myself. I think that experience informs how I interact with new ideas and technology today - poke at it and play with it and eventually it will reveal its secrets. As an adult (of sorts), I'm more willing to admit that I don't know and to ask for help. But I still completely emphathize with the reluctant patrons mentioned in my course readings, having been terrified on both sides of the desk.


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Anonymous said...

My friend and I were recently talking about how involved with technology our daily lives have become. Reading this post makes me think back to that debate we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as memory becomes less expensive, the possibility of transferring our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could encounter in my lifetime.

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