I was reading the SF State University Magazine today. There’s an article about an historian who wrote a graphic novel about a court trial of a slave woman named Albina in late 19th century West Africa: the kind of history that’s hard to find because of the dearth of records kept. He wanted to make sure the story of a “tough as nails, powerful, argumentative and resilient woman” was told. In the article, the historian, Trevor R. Getz, talks about reframing the purpose of historians from one of “people who produce absolute knowledge” to one of “people who produce multiple histories and multiple stories.” I see a parallel to the shifting role of librarians.
When I first began working with Infopeople and had the privilege of working with Carole Leita, an amazing reference librarian, we would talk about how best to train librarians on searching the Internet. We would work on a set of questions to use in training. She quickly came up with answers to them all. Not so easy for me. So I would regularly ask “But, how did you get that answer?” “Why did you use those search terms?” “Why those websites?” I would then hear the logic behind the search strategy which I could then incorporate in my future searching.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to quickly answer a person’s library question and then forgetting the equally important outcome of empowering people to use the library or training them on information literacy skills. To support lifelong learning, we should expose the amazing skills of a good librarian. We need to keep working on techniques to help people understand the world of information and make transparent the processes we use to look for answers.