Common as Muck

After watching the Doctor Who Easter special, “Planet of the Dead,” something buzzing around in the back of my head leaped out and said, “Aha!” I’ve consciously realized one of the things I love about the new Doctor Who show. It’s not just science fantasy that’s rooted in the mundane, it’s science fantasy that celebrates and glorifies the mundane.

The new Doctor Who celebrates and glorifies shopworkers, office temps, waitresses, people who live in council housing, broken families, squabbling families, chops and gravy, chips and Christmas dinners. The Doctor’s companions are invariably hardworking middle or lower class people who make valuable companions and universe-saving heroes because they’re hardworking middle or lower class. (Lady Christina de Souza in “Planet of the Dead” is a notable exception. Captain Jack Harkness is another one.) While the Doctor leads a life of neverending wandering and adventure, he joyfully celebrates the mundane lives of ordinary people (like his bit about people who are “nothing special” in “Father’s Day”). In Doctor Who, people are special because they’re ordinary, not despite it.

While the TARDIS has an ordinary, mundane exterior and a wondrous, fantastic interior, Doctor Who has a wondrous, fantastic exterior wrapped around a common, mundane core. And I love the show for it.

Laboring Under Misconceptions

I’m sure I have been guilty on occasion of complaining, “I didn’t go to library school to do this!” I know I’ve heard coworkers say something similar. This being something that at the time seemed trivial and simple, nothing like what we studied in grad school: clearing printer jams, unclogging toilets, sorting donated books, cleaning up vomit, chasing horny teenagers out of secluded bookstacks, and so on and so on. I went to library school and studied reference materials, collection management, cataloging, theories of information. I got a Master’s degree, for crying out loud! Surely such tasks as these are beneath me, right?

Well, here’s the thing. I went to library school to make libraries my career. And sometimes library work is clearing printer jams, unclogging toilets, sorting books, cleaning up vomit and harrassing horny teenagers. That work isn’t beneath me, it’s all part of the job, regardless of how much student loan debt I’ve racked up, regardless of what letters I have after my name. The abstract ideals and ethics of librarianship are all well and good, but if printers are jammed, toilets are overflowing and there’s puke on the floor, nobody gives a good goddamn about successful reference transactions.

And this is beyond libraries. Whatever job you have, whatever amount of schooling you have, work sometimes involves crawling around in dust and grime, cleaning up other people’s messes, doing repetitive and boring work, doing work that, in all honesty, a trained chimp could do. It’s all important. None of it is trivial. And if you think some work is really beneath you…well, I’d say you need your diaper changed and a new bottle of warm milk, because you’re clearing not mature enough to handle adult labor. You’re insulting the good people who regularly do such work. To riff off of Oscar Wilde, some of us are looking at the stars, but we are all in the gutter. And we all need to do our part to keep the gutter clean.

Impractical, Unfeasible, Unfundable Ideas for Libraries

Yesterday, I drove to Wichita to present at the Kansas Library Association/Mountain Plains Library Association conference on “Impractical, Unfeasible, Unfundable Ideas for Libraries.” This was a presentation based on one of the best sessions of Library Camp of the West that I participated in. I expanded the premise a bit to be: in these times of economic uncertainty and hardship, now is not the time to give in to despair or to play it safe. Libraries should be daring, bold, willing to dream big, take risks and make mistakes. Rather than stand up and babble for the entire session, with Powerpoint slides to illustrate my blather, I threw out some wild ideas I would like to see in libraries and then solicited ideas from the attendees. Which was easy, because librarians are full of wild ideas they’d like to see.

Here are the major ideas we came up with:

Libraries stop rolling over for vendors

* For ILS vendors, aren’t libraries their only customer base? They should roll over for us!
* What about database vendors? Why don’t they give us more of what we want? (And what DO we want?)?

Libraries go completely open source

* Open source software isn’t always an easy solution or an easy change
* But the ideals of OSS match librarian ideals
* Going open source could push more librarians to be computer problem-solvers

Bill Gates gives computers, software & money to libraries…

* Why not other companies, like FedEx & UPS?
* Why not other entrepreneurs who may share library values? Like Mark Shuttleworth, the sponsor of Ubuntu Linux.

Librarian travel by pneumatic tube to wherever they’re needed!

Databases controlling the space.

Hybrid engines for library vehicles! Or biodeisel engines from Willy Nelson.

Partner with Meals on Wheels.

Choose something in the catalog & the item starts blinking. Spot where item goes blinks when it needs to be reshelved.

Staff-driven climate control.

Like Loews–patrons push a button & “Help wanted!” would sound out, alerting librarians.

Abolish the reference desk! Reference staff should walk around the library, not sit at a desk.

Everything with a number & up to date.

Magic button that reorganizes furniture and puts it back where it belongs after patrons move it.

Streamlined ILL!

Librarians out of the library! Have librarians on cruise ships! in coffee shops!

Technology that decodes “I want the book with the blue cover” question patrons often have.

Flashing neon signs to direct people to restrooms.

Creating added entries in MARC records for “red book” & “blue book”–tagging items in catalog–browsing by cover.

On http://www.etsy.com, you can browse by color. Why not in library catalogs?

Abolish the Dewey Decimal System!

Culture shift to play with things that might not work.

Combine libraries with laundromats & the DMV.

Bars in libraries!

Check out an audiobook at one Kansas library & return it to any other Kansas library.

Nationwide library cards. (Or just get rid of library cards.)

Anything marked as library materials goes through the mail for free.

Heather Braum of NEKLS was one of the attendees who also tweeted during the session.  She posted great notes and got some interesting responses.

What wild, crazy, dreamy ideas do you have for libraries? And how can we make these ideas a reality?

EDIT: The notes from the LCOW session have great ideas, too.