Conversation Starter

by mlarents

“The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.”

This worldview is repeated throughout R. David Lankes’ The Atlas of New Librarianship.  He speaks of librarians being in the conversation game; espousing knowledge is created through conversation.

I love this idea.  I picture men and women, sweaters tied around their necks, sitting cross-legged around a big oak tree talking about books and music and politics and ideas.  Lovely, ain’t it?

The thing is, I’m a conversation enthusiast.  I like talking to people.  I like meeting people who may come from a different place, but through a few minutes of conversation we realize we both know all the words to “Baby Got Back”.  But sometimes, once in a blue moon, people just don’t want to talk to me.  Like that time at the train station when the homeless woman asked if I was a cop, took off her shoes, threw a handful of plastic spoons on the ground, and literally ran away from me.  How do we, as librarians, get our members talking?  What if they don’t want to have the conversation?  What if knowledge creation isn’t their main objective?

Library member Christopher thinks the library is a great judgement-free place to read Fifty Shades of Grey.  He spends his lunch hour at the library frantically turning the pages and does not wish to be bothered.   Member Laura loves her local library’s wifi so she can play World of Warcraft whenever she wants.  Currently, she is desperately trying to get her Druid to level 16 so it can gain aquatic form and breathe underwater.

Both Christopher and Laura see the library as a worthwhile place, but do they see it as having a stake in their community, an investment in improving their conditions?  Do they even see their community as needing improvement?  Do they actively seek knowledge?

Libraries can only be successful if both the librarian and the community it serves are invested in one another.  How do we get people to care?  How do we start the dialogue?