What on Earth are we doing here?
What are we doing here? What is the role of the library and who decides? There is no doubting that libraries are changing rapidly, they are going in a whole new direction from the silent tomes they used to be. As new, enthusiastic and educated librarians we have lots of beliefs and ideas on the directions this new library should take – but is it really up to us?
The role of the library is determined to some extent by the governing legislation. In Queensland, the Libraries Act 1988 states that the object of the act is to “contribute to the cultural, social and intellectual development of all Queenslanders”, and some of the guiding principles for achieving this are,
- Capabilities for lifelong learning about library and information services should be developed
- Diverse audiences should be developed
- Content relevant to Queensland should be collected, preserved, promoted and made accessible.
- Children and young people should be supported in their understanding and use of library and informational services.
The Library Board of Queensland operate the State Library of Queensland under the requirements of this act. Local governments may operate their own libraries and are able to make their own laws about “the control, management and conduct of the library facility”, however, the Libraries Board has the responsibility to, promote, encourage, facilitate and provide assistance to public libraries, all under the guiding principles of the act. In other states, the Library Acts have a higher level of control over the running of public libraries and state funding can be tied to this.
Most of us new, hip librarians love the idea of the library as a community centre, a place for creativity and a space where people become not only passive consumers of information but active creators. I love that too. But, do you think that role of the library fits under this act?
I think in Queensland we are pretty lucky that our Act has the guiding objective, “to contribute to the cultural, social and intellectual development of all Queenslanders”, so we can be a bit flexible, and our state library can have as its purpose, “Inspiring Queensland’s creativity – forever”. Interestingly, the Queensland Museums Act 1970 and the Queensland Art Gallery Act 1987 also have the same objective and very similar guiding principles. However, the Art Gallery Act is the only one that specifies ‘involvement in’ rather than just ‘use of’ or ‘appreciation of’, in the guiding principles, stating that, “children and young people should be supported in their appreciation of, and involvement in, the visual arts”. Perhaps this gives the Art Gallery more of a mandate to be the centre for developing creativity than the library!
Library and information services professionals therefore commit themselves to the following core values of their profession:
-Promotion of the free flow of information and ideas through open access to recorded knowledge, information, and creative works.
-Connection of people to ideas.
–Commitment to literacy, information literacy and learning.
–Respect for the diversity and individuality of all people.
–Preservation of the human record.
–Excellence in professional service to our communities.
–Partnerships to advance these values
I am not saying that we shouldn’t have services like makerspaces, in fact, developing creative, community centred spaces is what I am passionate about. But, coming in as a super keen new librarian with a cool new philosophy is not enough. We need to aim high – we need to lobby, and research, and educate and push for changes to policies and legislation, until we have the mandate to support our bright new ideas.
Or do we? Perhaps we just need to appreciate the value of the mandate we already have – to connect the people to the information – that’s a pretty valuable role too and one I think we should be careful not to undervalue.
The following key missions which relate to information, literacy, education and culture should be at the core of public library services:
- creating and strengthening reading habits in children at an early age;
- supporting both individual and self-conducted education as well as formal education at all levels;
- providing opportunities for personal creative development;
- stimulating the imagination and creativity of children and young people;
- promoting awareness of cultural heritage, appreciation of the arts, scientific achievements and innovations;
- providing access to cultural expressions of all performing arts;
- fostering inter-cultural dialogue and favouring cultural diversity;
- supporting the oral tradition;
- ensuring access for citizens to all sorts of community information;
- providing adequate information services to local enterprises, associations and interest groups;
- facilitating the development of information and computer literacy skills;
- supporting and participating in literacy activities and programmes for all age groups, and initiating such activities if necessary.
What on earth are we doing here? – I think UNESCO has an answer for all of us.