28 Days of Advocacy #27 – Librarian DNA: We Are More Alike Than Different

There are a number of issues that seem to be “type of library” issues. But when given more than a cursory glance, it turns out that they are simply library issues. One example is the SKILLS Act introduced in the last Congress. Its purpose was to assure that every K-12 school would have a library with a state-certified school library media specialist. Or to put that another way, that every school would provide its students with the vital educational resources that research has shown contribute to student achievement. Isn’t that what No Child Left Behind was supposed to do—promote and cultivate student achievement?

How is the Skills ACT something more than a school library issue? Year after year during my 30-plus years as an academic librarian I have seen students enter college having had minimal library experience. They need a good deal of remedial help from their college’s librarians. Without that help they just aren’t able to meet their professor’s expectations that students identify, retrieve, use, and cite relevant information sources.

In our knowledge economy everyone should be concerned about student achievement at every level. The SKILLS Act is important to K-12 librarians, teachers, principals, school board members, academic librarians, college professors, employers—to everyone. This is a library issue and more; it is an issue that matters to the intellectual and economic advancement of American society.

Recently Rep. John Conyers of Michigan has introduced H.R. 801, a bill that would prohibit the current practice of making available to the public one year after they are published all research reports emanating from projects funded by the National Institutes of Health. That sounds like an issue for academic health sciences libraries, right? It is, but it is also an issue for every American. Physicians affiliated with large teaching hospitals and medical school faculties have access to a wealth of journal literature reporting the newest medical research findings. Other physicians have access to that literature, but not as easily. Don’t you want your doctors to have access that NIH-sponsored research if it will help them treat an ailment that befalls you or a member of your family? This is a library issue and more; it is an issue that matters to the health and health care of everyone in the United States and beyond.

I dream about mapping the library genome. I imagine it includes genes related to describing and organizing information sources, intellectual freedom, literacy of various types, and more. There may be a public library gene and a school library gene, and a law library gene, and so on. But that genetic map would demonstrate that our different types of libraries are not fundamentally different. Every type of library has the same fundamental mission but carries it out for different communities, each with distinctive needs. Our libraries collectively comprise the only agency in American society that provides universally accessible lifelong learning opportunities.

They form an integrated info-ecosystem. When one part of an ecosystem is threatened or harmed, the whole is threatened or harmed. When one type of library is threatened or harmed, our library ecosystem is threatened or harmed. When we advocate for an issue that principally affects one type of library, we are advocating for the entire library ecosystem. If all of us take this to heart, we will be much more effective in capturing the attention of policy makers, decision makers, and funders. And we will be much more effective in persuading them that they should promote and protect the libraries their decisions affect.

Jim Rettig
President, the American Library Association

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