Every month, I write an article for The Fax, MHC’s Faculty Association newsletter. This month’s piece talks about my relationship to libraries because as of May 2018, I am now responsible for Library Services at Medicine Hat College.
Without being overly dramatic, if it weren’t for libraries, I wouldn’t be here (literally, in Medicine Hat, Alberta and perhaps metaphorically, as well). I feel like libraries saved my life, and I am glad to be responsible for a library again. After my dad left when I was six years old, the library became my lifeline, and I will never forget the first two items I checked out – AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. They opened my world. The music came first, then the reading, but I think the most important thing, at times, was simply the space. On any given summer day, I would ride down to the South End Branch of the Bay City Public Library and lose hours looking through collections of music and Choose Your Own Adventure Dungeons and Dragons books. I was always welcome to loiter there, and for those with a library narrative, the library becomes part of our identity. Throughout my life, I have never strayed far away from libraries.
I worked at the Albion College Library at a time when we first got InfoTrac General Reference Center (which excited my passion for library technology). After working with homeless families in Seattle for five years, I obtained my Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington’s iSchool at a time when Amazon, Microsoft, and Google were taking over. The stories about libraries becoming obsolete were plentiful, and my awareness of the social and political function of information started to dawn. I then worked for the King County Library System as a part-time librarian (where I experienced the nature of precariously employed labour), and then moved to Oregon to take on my first full-time library job. Years later, at a library conference, I met the woman who became my wife, shortly after moving to Canada to join the Edmonton Public Library in 2007. EPL would be the first Canadian library system to the win the Library of the Year award in 2014. My sever years there were exciting, rewarding years.
Even after I left libraries to join Medicine Hat College and pursue my passion for teaching and learning, I never really left libraries. I remained an instructor in MacEwan University’s Library and Information Technology program, and now I am a sessional faculty in the University of Alberta’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I include my library history here for a few reasons. First, it is not lost on me that 20 years’ worth of stories about the death of libraries are not true here. In Alberta, the Taylor Family Digital Library, the new Calgary Public Library, and MRU’s Riddell Library & Learning Centre have all recently been constructed. I won’t say MHC needs to keep pace with the Joneses and build a bigger and better library. I will say that libraries are more relevant and important than they have ever been before. They have been made more important by technology, not replaced by it, and the growing importance of critical digital literacy and digital citizenship as core elements of curriculum are proof of that. 74% of institutions say their outcomes include critical thinking, information literacy (59%) and research skills (51%). The library remains core.
The second reason I have discussed my 20 years as a librarian is because libraries continue to adapt. Some functions have disappeared, but maintaining collections (physical and digital), delivering services (APA support, reference, and technology assistance) and providing space continue to be important elements of being a library. Open Education Resources, trends in scholarly publishing, academic integrity, and distance librarianship are growing aspects of libraries that continue to grow more complex and sophisticated.
Finally, my life in libraries has made me aware that it is impossible to prove the value of the library.While large scale studies have been able to correlate surrogates or proxies of student learning (such as grades) with library-related interactions and behaviors, the is impossible to establish causation and say the library caused learning to happen.Library value is ultimately established by the strength of the relationships the Library has with its community and the value it provides to them.The early indicators of the Student Success Centre are positive, and they show the collaborative nature of the library.Chuck, Irlanda, Nicholas, Justine, Natalie, Shawna, etc. all had a vision for how to provide the space, services, and expertise necessary to help MHC students succeed.This is the only definition of Library that makes any sense, and it’s so good to be here!It’s like I never left.