#newlib rxn

12.6.13 § 2 Comments

Just wrapped up the Master Class in New Librarianship from the Syracuse iSchool, another Massively Asynchronous Online Course Undertaking, based on The Atlas of New Librarianship by R. David Lankes (The MIT Press, 2011). Just a few notes…

  1. I only listened to the videos for this course, having quite early found the diagrams to be illegible and the quizzes all about regurgitation, not reflection.
  2. Browsed parts of the class forum but mostly looked for reactions and related reading elsewhere on the Web. Here’s some of what I read, in no particular order:

    The Atlas of New Librarianship (Essential Readings in the Philosophy of LIS) by Lane Wilkinson (Sense and Reference, May 13, 2011)

    New Librarianship: Librarians by Topher Lawton (Hack Library School, July 3, 2012)

    On being a librarian all the time, and switching off, and marketing yourself, and… by Ned Potter (Storify)

    New librarianship, week 1 review by John Jackson (Ink and Vellum, July 15, 2013)

    Thoughts on New Librarianship, Week One by Jacob Berg (BeerBrarian, July 12, 2013)

    New Librarianship and open questions by Lane Wilkinson (Sense and Reference, July 8, 2013)

    Final Thoughts on New Librarianship, the Wrap-Up Post by Jacob Berg (BeerBrarian, September 11, 2013)

    The Atlas of New Librarianship, by R. David Lankes – book review by Elaine Harger (Progressive Librarian #36/37, Fall 2011) [pdf]

    Admitting Our Agendas by Barbara Fister (Library Babel Fish, August 29, 2013)

    Libraries are not in the construction business by Lane Wilkinson (Sense and Reference, May 18, 2011)

    • Probably the first time in my life that I’ve read the comments without complete regret.

    Me, Too!: On Agendas in Libraries, Especially Mine by Jessica Olin (Letters to a Young Librarian, September 3, 2013)

    On Libraries and the Public Sphere by John Buschman (Library Philosophy and Practice Vol. 7, No. 2, Spring 2005)

  3. I feel that the Us v. Them rhetoric of the New Librarianship is one of its major problems. For every “don’t do that; do this” -type of statement that the New Librarianship hands down, neither course nor Atlas provide convincing explanations of why librarianship has to be one way and not another. To wit:
    • On rethinking access: providing access to communities and conversations rather than to materials and things
    • On “critical social responsibility”: Don’t ask a community “what do you think of the library?” or “how do you use the library?”; ask instead, “what are you trying to do? what are your aspirations and dreams?”
    • On fixing libraries: “instead of sending social workers, we sent them business folks”

    Why not… both? All of the above? Librarians and libraries exist in multiples, with different missions and specializations, for this very reason.

  4. Some take issue with the graphic part of the Atlas, complaining that it’s not a real map, it only moves in one direction, there’s too much white space, and so on. I agree: It’s ugly, hard to read, and opaque to the point of uselessness. But the directionality at least seems to be the result of New Librarianship’s obsession with “scaffolding,” a word for building knowledge upon knowledge that comes up all the time in K-12 education. I file it next to “wraparound support” in the Drawer of Imperfect Architectural Metaphors for Teaching and learning.

    In the New Librarianship course, scaffolding is described as “developing knowledge” by building “agreements” one atop the other. Eventually, smaller agreements “collapse” into larger agreements. This explains a whole lot, including:

    • Why the map moves in one direction: Scaffolding according to #newlib is about moving forward, building ever-larger ideas and theories from smaller concepts… until we all agree? Not a lot of room there for self-correction, reconsidering, disagreeing and hashing things out; just an inexorable march ever-upward.
    • Why the map is “titanium-looking spheres” on white space: there is no context because knowledge can be built any time, anywhere, from anything, without reference to anything you don’t want to make reference to. Elaine Harger (she of the “titanium-looking” etc.) has pointed out how ahistorical the Atlas is. When people behave this way with actual cities, actual landscapes, and actual maps, it’s a kind of violence; doing this to a profession / vocation / area of scholarship is just as disturbing.
  5. Early lectures in the course had me worrying that library school was going to be all about bad writing / editing and confused borrowings from already vague education and learning theory. (To be clear, I have zero objections to theories education and learning – not that it’s up to me! – have just been reading and reviewing too many crappy education books of late.) Lane Wilkinson’s post helpfully reminded me that rigor matters, whether or not you agree.
  6. I came into the course lacking key context, namely that New Librarianship is a brand. I guess I should have trusted in the heterogeneity of librarians and thinking about libraries – having read and followed Academic Librarian and Sense and Reference before finding other, more rah-rah kinds of voices – but it’s easy to give in to imposter syndrome and feel pressure not to disagree, even with writing that makes me queasy. It’s important to remember that #librarianship and the way some of these people think about the profession – all marketing, personal branding, social media-centric, competitive, downright harsh on occasion – aren’t all there is. There’s no need to pick sides, and thank goodness for that.

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