A marketing friend sent me a link to the Imaginibbles video about Anythink Library. "Shhh is a Four Letter Word" piqued my interest right off the bat because of its clever title. However, as someone who values the quiet that I can find in library spaces, I also had some concerns.
Anythink Library is the name adopted by the Rangeview Library District in Colorado in an attempt to re-brand their institution. The library and its employees have gotten much recognition and praise for their work. Library Journal devoted an article to them and described their remarkable turn-around and forward thinking perspective. When learning about them, I was impressed about their "rethinking" of all they do. As a self-proclaimed anti-Dewey decimal person, I was equally happy to hear that they dropped the numbered system in favor of a subject based system. (That works well for my archivist sensibilities, at least.) I love their proclamation in the video that they aim for "connecting with books and experiences." There is certainly a lot to love here in searching for a new 21st century vision for community libraries.
There are some things that I didn't love.
What do YOU think about this statement by the narrator of the Imaginibbles video?
"I want a library that's not outdated and irrelevant. A place where I can explore my curiosity instead of being shushed out the door. A place where discovery reigns. I want to be encouraged to get loud and get involved. I want a library where anythink is possible."
I don't know about you, but this strikes me as slightly disconcerting. As a kid, my library was the place where I could "explore my curiosity" and "discovery reigns" in my mind every time I open the door of a local library. What's with all this loud stuff?
I am not a shushing librarian, but there is something to be said for quiet spaces. Here is where I come from on this... I am currently reading the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. This book talks about the advantages of quiet for communities and for thinking. I am basically a quiet person. I like my quiet library. Quiet talks about why society values extroversion over introversion. Are the extroverts taking over our libraries too?
I have nothing against group activities in a library space, but I hope that Anythink isn't throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. One of the advantages of libraries is they give us a place to be by ourselves, to think on our own. In the video, one woman tries to show another woman something that she is reading. The woman she shows "shushes" her. The shusher is approached by the library police who tell her that "Shhh is a four letter word." Really?! I hope that the library isn't going whole hog on this idea. I hope that they offer quiet spaces and loud spaces. Why the complete reversal?
There was one other thing that struck me negatively in the video. Librarians are called "guides." I am a proud librarian. Yes, I have guided library patrons to find resources they need for life long learning, but I do that as a librarian - not as a "guide." I understand that they want to make the librarians more approachable at Anythink and that they value the skills of the non-librarian in creating a great learning space for people, but why devalue our expertise in the process? To me, it feels like that is what they are doing. Rather than getting rid of the word "librarian," perhaps the word itself can be rebranded along with the library?
My post is not trying to put down the work of Anythink. In fact, I love more than I dislike here. Everything I've seen and read about this library indicates that they are trying to make things better. They are not afraid to change and probably not afraid to change back when things aren't working. I love the obvious community feel they have established. I love that they see themselves encouraging not just reading, but also music, video, science and more. However, while they are showing that "magic can come from chaos" I hope that they also show that magic can come from solitude and lone contemplation and that there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with being a "librarian" either. In fact, I think it's pretty great.