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The Atlas of New Librarianship

by R David Lankes

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A mission and a map, though not for all librarians' journeys   (2013-04-17)

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by frankwrite


R. David Lankes, director of Syracuse University's library science program, wants librarians to change librarianship comprehensively.  Librarians, says Lankes, are more important than their buildings, organizations and even collections.  He says that a librarian, not a collection, is the only thing needed to make a room a library.  Librarians’ mission, Lankes suggests, “is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.”  He says they also should understand the profession’s history and should adopt theories of learning and motivation from the social sciences.

This big, complicated, brilliant book is organized around Lankes’s mission statement.  Each chapter – or “thread” -- addresses a different part of the mission:  knowledge creation; facilitating; communities; improve society, and librarians.  The book’s content is as much visual as textual.  “Maps” for each thread show goals, processes and ideas, along with their origins, their purposes and their relationships with other goals, processes and ideas.

The atlas is also a manifesto.  It is a source of inspiration and hope for the “defiant” librarians who have been “silenced by the chorus of the mediocre and resistant to change” (page 1).  Lankes says, “Librarianship is not defined by how we do things – a functional view – but by why we do things – a worldview” (p. 137), and “stripped of your collections and policies and organizations, you still stand noble.  Your nobility comes from a mission no less than the preservation and improvement of our society” (page 2).

Among its many virtues, this book also elevates school librarians, puts technology into its proper place (important but not profound), and provides compelling reasons for getting rid of the organizational silos and parochial thinking of librarians and library schools.

And yet, the atlas is not quite logical enough or inclusive enough.  Without a collection of some kind, isn’t a librarian in a room with learners more a school than a library?  Is learning – the creation of knowledge – really the sole purpose of librarians?  Knowledge certainly is created in public libraries, but probably not because of the blockbuster movies, pop music, anime and pulp romances in their collections.  What public librarian would say those items don’t belong?

The Atlas of Librarianship should be read by library school faculty and students, school librarians and every director of an academic or a large public library.  For other librarians, it is an inspiring, compelling but incomplete roadmap to somewhere over the rainbow.



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