Your Name and Title:
Dr. Ling Hwey Jeng, Professor and Director
Library, School, or Organization Name:
Texas Woman’s University, School of Library and Information Studies
Area of the World from Which You Will Present:
Language in Which You Will Present:
Educators, students, and librarians interested in LIS education and professional development
Short Session Description (one line):
Community-Anchored Transformation in LIS Education and Learning
Full Session Description (as long as you would like):
Multiple scholars in LIS have called for reconceptualization of the LIS discipline. The call was given a prominent voice with the publication of The Atlas of New Librarianship in 2011 in which author Lankes defines the mission of librarians as “to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.” This definition of mission departs from the LIS tradition in that it redirects the focus of librarianship away from the library building and the collections that have defined libraries for centuries, and firmly toward the role of librarians and activities carried out by them in the communities. The core concept is that the work of librarians is defined by the community through ongoing conversations and engagement with members of its community, not the other way around.
The global pandemic of COVID-19 of 2020 which impacted almost every country and upended all aspects of individual and collective lives across the globe has been an accelerator of this LIS reconceptualization. In the US, for example, the lockdown of many localities in spring 2020 forced numerous libraries closed and library workers furloughed or permanently laid off. To maintain relevance and employability, librarians responded quickly. Many of them proactively restructured their library services either curbside or virtually. Many others were repurposed to other civil duties of urgent need. Still many others partnered with local governments and community-based agencies to provide immediate pandemic responses, including COVID-19 testing assistance and contact tracing. All services were provided and duties performed without the confine of any library building. The LIS transformation during the pandemic demonstrates clearly that librarians can refocus their mission outside of the library building. For long-term vitality and sustainability, librarians must continue to anchor their work solidly in the community and to affect positive changes in response, recovery, and rebuilding of the community for resilience and sustainability. The new role of librarians to facilitate community resilience and sustainability requires a shift in perspectives and a re-anchoring of LIS education and learning to be community-centered informatics.
Most fundamental in the shift in LIS education and learning is the change in mindset of librarians from a focus of competencies on library functions and operations to development of community narratives as well as the broader perspective how the mission of librarians contributes to the overall quality of life of the local community, the surrounding environment, and the global climate. Within this context, six areas of competencies are identified as essential for librarians to achieve meaningful engagement with the communities:
- Whole-person librarianship – Librarians must be able to see themselves and community members they come to interact with as whole persons with multiple dimensions of personality and activities. Recognizing the multiple dimensions of human lives enable us to consider ourselves not just as librarians but more importantly as full members of the community.
- Circles of care – Individuals are at the core of their circle of care which begins with our own self, and extend outward to our families, friends, neighbors, and the community as a whole. Putting our self in the center of the circle of care recognizes our own membership in the community, our stake in its success, and our passion to protect the common values of our community.
- Stakeholder relationship – Everything librarians do in the community is about stakeholder relationships. Community members are touched by librarians from birth to old age. They may be helped by public librarians in early childhood, school librarians during K-12, academic librarians in college, special librarians throughout their careers, and again by public librarians during their senior years. Librarians form a village that helps raise each child, facilitates education and learning into adulthood, and keeps the person on track through life’s changes. These are lifelong stakeholder relationships for librarians to nurture and cultivate.
- Common language – Librarians must make time to understand the specific needs of their community and find the common language which will be necessary in continuous conversations with community-based agencies for coalition building.
- The role of librarians as connectors – To achieve meaningful community engagement, librarians will need to inventory local community assets in order to match those assets with areas of needs. Librarians are in the position to identify community needs and forge connections between the local needs and the community resources.
- The library is the backbone of our community – With understanding of common goals and shared measures among government, non-governmental, and nonprofit agencies, librarians can position their library to be the backbone infrastructure for successful local community development.
Using these six areas of competencies in community engagement as the basis, I and my faculty colleagues are working on transforming the LIS curriculum to emphasize community anchored librarianship, beginning with our 3-year federal grant project, Transforming Libraries into Community Anchors in Rural Texas, supported by Institute of Museum and Library Services. Our primary goal is to integrate essential concepts into the curriculum with a focus on community informatics, including appreciative inquiry, asset-based community development, community conversations, grant writing and management, assessment, and data communication. These conceptual areas in community informatics serve as the foundation for both developing new LIS curriculum for community informatics and designing professional development activities for practicing librarians.