ideas · ported from old Blogger blog

Libraries facilitating self expression

I’m frustrated by the seeming lack of commitment of libraries (especially community-anchored public libraries) to their role in facilitating patrons’ ability to speak. Librarians entusiastically rally ’round the flag of “Intellectual Freedom“, but they think of it almost entirely in terms of defending patrons’ right to read stuff written by others. All very well and good, but it misses a giant (and, arguably, the most empowering) piece of the puzzle.

On its website, the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A makes the point that, “Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.” [emphasis added] But how seriously do most libraries take the mission of facilitating information dissemination? The answer is mixed.

  • Nowadays, many libraries provide support and assistance for helping their patrons disseminate information in the Web 2.0 environment, like by helping them create and use blogs, podcasts, picture sharing services, social networking, etc.
  • And, of course, most libraries have long provided one form or another of their “traditional” dissemination tools, e.g., bulletin boards, meeting rooms, display cases and Information & Referral (I&R) files.

But if a library, especially a public library, wants to genuinely facilitate the ability for their patrons (i.e., members of their local community) to disseminate their information, to express their ideas, to speak that which they find meaningful, then it ought to look at how people already do express themselves, and then provide local, community-specific assistance in helping more of their patrons do so, or to do so better. So, for example, such assistance could include providing:

  • tips, examples and referrals to local resources that can help them put their messages onto T-shirts, hats, buttons, bumper stickers, novelty items, etc.
  • addresses to local tattoo parlors
  • names of local venues for playing music, singing karaoke, presenting poetry or being a stand-up comic
  • easy to follow instructions for obtaining “group member license plates” or vanity plates from their state’s department of transportation
  • tips and resources for publishing books or recording music (combined with a commitment to then add those resources to their collections)
  • addresses, tips and examples for writing letters to the editors of local newspapers

And, in addition to identifying these resources, the professional skills and orientation of librarians can be brought to bear on helping their patrons articulate their dissemination needs and understand the relative merits of different dissemination tools and strategies. (Another aspect of the reference interview.)

If librarians started from the premise that people want and deserve to express information as well as consume it, and that supporting “Intellectual Freedom” includes facilitating access to a variety of locally appropriate, content-neutral dissemination tools, then they would provide a profoundly empowering service to their local communities (and engage in a sustainable way to stay relevant in a library-threatened world).

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