Big Tent Librarianship: Six Months Out

About six months ago my Library Journal Backtalk article “We Need Big Tent Librarianship” was published. For myself, it was a pivotal piece; it was the articulation of a personal belief on a very public platform. I fretted over the little article unlike any blog post, fiddling with the wording and construction the whole way. While I did not write anything truly controversial, there were moments of trepidation as to how it would be received. It feels foolish now, but there was a distinct “What have I done?” kind of moment to the final draft being accepted. It was certainly more of a product of my perceived vulnerability; that was I was trying to convey something to which I was deeply personal and passionate in my belief. It felt like a turning point in my writing and step forward in my appearance on the library scene. 

In looking back on it now, it’s a bit hard to measure an impact or progress or result. Unlike the bulk of library statistics, it is nigh impossible to measure something that seeks to induce change at the ideological level. Six months is the wrong timescale when the purpose is to move attitudes over generations of librarians. I would surmise that some people might balk at that scale, that it was too large, too ambitious, and too far reaching for a single one page Backtalk article in a trade publication. Despite that, I think it can be done even if it takes the rest of my life to do so. I’m not saying this to be dramatic, but as a realist; a concept like big tent librarianship is something that requires a cultural shift from thinking that libraries are so inherently different as to how they are remarkably alike.

It is this last part (how they are alike) that has been my greatest takeaway from the last couple of months. While people would be quick to point out the unique features of each library type, I’m still drawn back to basic purposes and goals of the library institution. To me, it is the heart of the case for library preservation across all types; how can one library be deemed less fit for saving than another when they share nearly identical mission philosophies? To me, the unique features do not define the library but are merely offer an example as to how nuanced service and materials can be. It demonstrates flexibility in meeting needs and serving the community while maintaining those core values.

I can see people every now and again talking about big tent librarianship, so I know it is has gone further than the words I wrote back then. It’s good to see and just tells me I’m on the right path. This path isn’t about repeating what I wrote, but acting on it instead. That’s the next big step for big tent librarianship and the one that will take the longest. But, like any journey, it all starts with a step.