Can you explain what your role is in the library?
Putting books back on shelves :- P
Of course I’m teasing by using a pop culture meme of librarian stereotypes! But actually the concept of physically placing a book on the shelf is more than just a metaphor for the power of libraries in involving both mind and body; a library’s print collection truly enacts research as a process. In a studio-based art and design learning environment, a library can help people realize that research is an iterative process similar to those used in art and design production. Ideas coalesce into forms through the interaction of the body in contact with tools. In art a tool might be a paintbrush; in design, a drawing tablet; in research the book is a tool for giving ideas a form.
I remember hearing a comment by a rising young art gallery owner who worked at the OCAD U Library several years ago re-shelving books. He claimed that everything he knows about art theory was gleaned from putting books back on the shelf. It’s not that he learned about these aesthetic theories in depth—this is unquestionably the domain of the studio or classroom; but the library helped him to understand how these theories relate to other ones by their spatial relation to other books on the shelf. Libraries, by definition, organize information and the concentric relations between subjects, time period, geographic region are unmistakeably present to anyone who wanders our book collection. For visual learners, this is a powerful means of enacting knowledge.
But with all metaphysics aside, I would have to say that essentially, my job is to build communities through fostering communication. The reason that librarians build collections, evaluate research methodologies, manage data or teach our users how to become information literate is so that people can become active members of a knowledge community. Although this may sound controversial, I often think that the studio and the classroom teach students how to ask questions, but—through our extensive access to critically evaluated information objects—we suggest effective pathways for answering them.
So in short, I spend my days enacting the Canadian Library Association’s “Statement on Intellectual Freedom” which, for librarians, is the foundational constitution for everything that we do!
What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
Being able to combine education and research. I have a Bachelor of Education and a Master’s Degree in musicology, but I never really felt fully comfortable in either environment. Teaching in a traditional classroom—whether grade school of post-secondary environments—is rewarding; however, I always feel so confined in my ability to access knowledge-building tools. In a library, I am surrounded by informational learning resources—whether in print, electronic, audio-visual or through the knowledge of my peers—and this level of connectedness cannot be replicated in even the most high-tech, wired, “smart” classroom.
Educators often advocate for reform in pedagogy (e.g. Paulo Friere) through the use of active learning models and empowering learners to discover their own sense-making pathways to knowledge. I truly feel that the reference desk is one of the most powerful learning spaces we currently have in our educational system for fully embodying a more egalitarian, democratic approach to learning in what Friere calls the “practices of freedom.”
What do you like to do outside of the library?
I have an insatiable appetite for live music and seem to spend almost every weekend visiting the Rex Hotel for a weekly dose of jazz. Also, I’ve been a cellist since high school and spent part of my early career as a professional musician. Highlights in my past playing experience include being a long-serving member of Arcady Choir and Orchestra, which has led to three recordings and a recorded chamber performance on TVO’s Studio One. As the cellist for Te Deum choir and orchestra in Hamilton throughout the 1990s, I was able to perform a wide array of Baroque choral and chamber pieces, many of which were staged at the Glen Gould Studio in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre.
But now, I have a much more manageable musical schedule. Aside from ongoing annual performances of Handel’s Messiah with Arcady Choir and Orchestra (I’m almost at 100 repetitions of the oratorio with this group!), I am focused mainly on my role as the principal cellist for the Counterpoint Community Orchestra. I find this collegial music-making environment utterly fulfilling. In the past, I had to rely on making money through performing, but now I can relax and enjoy play the classics of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky purely for the sake of making music.
What do you wish you could do that, under current constraints, the library is unable to do?
As much as I’m at home in the bricks-and-mortar library, I’ve often thought it would be so much better for our professional reputation to explore ways of embedding our librarian’s knowledge capabilities more meaningfully campus-wide. I image a sort of “on call” library emergency number. Maybe we could develop a Dorothy H. Hoover Bat-signal for such emergencies!
Along these lines, I do think having a librarian in attendance at studio crits would be such a compelling addition to the whole experience; many of the ideas, concepts, or critical theories that arise from people’s evaluations almost demand some sort of informational backing; almost like an oral footnote citation in support of the commentary. An on-call librarian could bring along an ipad and quickly search books, articles, encyclopedias that would help the student artists to quickly learn ways of finding supporting research to help enact the critical inquiry elicited from the dialogue.
So maybe what I’m envisioning as the entire school being a library instead of being compartmentalized into studio, classroom, library in a very segregated manner. I suppose wireless networks create a sense of a ubiquitous information environment, but the internet it is only a small part of the equation need for successful creative research. I imagine books, magazines, design annuals, objects, iconic furniture, material collections spread throughout the campus, so that every space has the potential for students to learn through interacting with information tools that engage the body as much as the mind. The challenge would be to find some way to maintain the rigorous organizational schemes required to keep track of each and every resource in such a utopian meta-library. This would be critical because a library—at its core—cannot function as a randomly informal, anarchic collection of stuff. Without organizational schemes, access can become impossible and the library would cease to function in its pursuit of providing access to learning objects that help people build knowledge.