In his February 11 post, my fellow LITA blogger Bryan Brown interrogated the definitions of librarianship. He concluded that librarianship amounts to a “set of shared values and duties to our communities,” nicely summarized in the ALA’s Core Values of Librarianship. These core values are access, confidentiality / privacy, democracy, diversity, education and lifelong learning, intellectual freedom, preservation, the public good, professionalism, service, and social responsibility. But the greatest of these is access, without which we would revert to our roots as monastic scriptoriums and subscription libraries for the literate elite.
Bryan experienced some existential angst given that he is a web developer and not a “librarian” in the sense of job title or traditional responsibilities–the ancient triad of collection development, cataloging, and reference. In contrast, I never felt troubled about my job, as my title is e-learning librarian (got that buzzword going for me, which is nice) and as I do a lot of mainstream librarian-esque things, especially camping up front doing reference or visiting classes doing information literacy instruction.
However, I never expected to become manager of electronic resources, systems, web redesign, invoicing and vendor negotiations, and hopefully a new institutional repository fresh out of library school. I did not expect to spend my mornings troubleshooting LDAP authentication errors, walking students through login issues, running cost-benefit analyses on databases, and training users on screencasting and BlackBoard.
But digital librarians like Bryan and myself are the new faces of librarianship. I deliver and facilitate electronic information access in the library context; therefore, I am a librarian. A web developer facilitates access to digital scholarship and library resources. A reference librarian points folks to information they need. An instruction librarian teaches people how to find and evaluate information. A cataloger organizes information so that people can access it efficiently. A collection developer selects materials that users will most likely desire to access. All of these job descriptions–and any others that you can produce–are predicated on the fundamental tenet of access, preferably open, necessarily free.
Democracy, diversity, and the public good is our vision. Our active mission is to open access to users freely and equitably. Within that mission lie intellectual freedom (open access to information regardless of moralistic or political beliefs), privacy (fear of publicity can discourage people from openly accessing information), preservation (enabling future users to access the information), and other values that grow from the opening of access to books, articles, artifacts, the web, and more.
By now you will have picked up on my wordplay. The phrase “open access” (OA) typically refers to scholarly literature that is “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions” (Peter Suber). But when used as a verb rather than an adjective, “open” means not simply the state of being unrestricted but also the action of removing barriers to access. We librarians must not only cultivate the open fields–the commons–but also strive to dismantle paywalls and other obstacles to access. Recall Robert Frost’s Mending Wall:
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him…
Or librarians, good sir. Or librarians.