Five Laws of Library Science, blue and green. Image by rochelle hartman at Flickr.
Some scattered thoughts about access to cultural institutions and GLAM (gallery, library, archive, museum) spaces that have been rattling around in my head for about a month, mostly questions.
When we say access, what kinds of access are we addressing? What kind of barriers to access are we focused on?
Intellectual access: Specifically as barriers, such as illiteracy, active illiteracy, untreated intellectual disorders, under-educated/poorly educated. Are our instructional staff reaching out and teaching these crucial skills? Are our tools and visual guides too hard to read for people who are low reading levels or for whom English is not their native language?
Physical access: Is this something that is in compliance with ADA/disability guidelines, but also impoverished areas that don’t have GLAM spaces, or places that aren’t easily reachable by public transit and aren’t part of anyone’s homebound route or bookmobile route? Can people get inside the building easily, and once inside, can they navigate around and access materials and exhibits without requesting aid?
In my reference class this spring, we talked about the ethics of librarianship and our duties as reference librarians when creating our policies to think about how it impacts patrons. My professor said that we should think about who a policy harms as much as it helps, and it is something that has stuck with me: every policy hurts someone, intentionally or not.
Consider my old undergraduate library at the University of Missouri-St. Louis: alumni could check out books but could not use interlibrary loan or access consortia books. Non-UMSL affiliated could use our public computer terminals, but not our Wi-Fi, as it was tied into student and staff logins. Access for some people means less access for others, and there are varying levels of access for all patrons, on multiple levels.
However, when libraries start throwing up artificial accessibility barriers, that’s a problem. At Librarian.net, someone wrote in saying that a local U.S. library was asking for patron’s proof of citizenship before they could get a library card. The article writer gave them a lot of good resources, but it rankles that it should even be happening. They did say something worth repeating outside of the various links and organizations provided: Everyone should be allowed to use the public libraries and everyone should be welcome.
For my reference class this semester, one of our major projects was to build a library guide and present it to the entire class. For those who don’t know, a library guide is an interactive (to a point) guide that librarians create for their patrons, and each guide focuses on a particular subject or resource type or just something they know a particular sub-group of patrons is already interested in or will become interested in soon.
I have to admit, I didn’t realize crafting library guides were even a part of librarianship until this year, but now I’m noticing more and more libraries creating and putting these guides on their websites. They range from explaining certain library-centered services to telling patrons how they can teach themselves how to cook or knit or build a bike. They’re really an extension of the overall mission of a library: sharing information and helping people.
So there I was, having to build my own library guide, having never personally interacted with one. At least I had the freedom to create a lib guide for anything I wanted – but then what? That is the stumbling block I ran into when crafting my lib guide: what is this for? Who is this for? How will it be used?
So in my last PAIGI (Physics As I See It) post, I mentioned a bad experience at my campus engineering library. I found that not every librarian in a STEM-specific library is trained to find field-specific resources. I took a question about Richard Feynman’s QED lectures to the reference desk and walked away unsatisfied but also curious about how that interaction could have gone differently. If she had, say, looked in a database or a STEM-specific resource instead of Googling, would we have found what I was looking for? Was training to blame, or a lack of intuitive knowledge about physics?
So instead of going in on this young lady who probably is not a library science student and probably never heard of Feynman in her life, I’ll share with everyone some of the resources I have used to find physics and STEM-related information. Most of them are online, since students often spend the majority of time in front of a computer. Some of it may seem obvious or just intuitive, but in the interest of transparency, I’ll be sharing them all.
In Monday’s reference class, we looked at a variety of virtual reference interactions, and one of the example queries immediately grabbed my attention — because, of course, it was about physics! Unfortunately, it was part of an example of a horrid reference interview, but it did have me wondering: could I have answered the question if I had been the librarian at the desk for that patron? Let’s find out! It’s PAIGI (Physics As I Get It) time!
Here is the question: “When you drive forward in a bumper car at high speed and you slam into the car in front of you, you find yourself thrown forward in your car. Which way is your car accelerating?”
I admit, I am not as far into my independent physics studies as I would like, but that’s okay. I’ve already read a good bit about acceleration and the mechanics of objects in motion, so I’ll try to tackle this question with what I know already and supplement the inevitable gaps with research online.
Note: all definitions and equations, unless cited otherwise, are paraphrased from the fifth edition of W. Thomas Griffith’s “The Physics of Everyday Phenomena”.
Richard Feynman, before he revolutionized physics and became the leading figure in quantum electrodynamics, was just an average (well, maybe not average) college student the day he walked into his campus library and asked for one thing: a map of the cat.
The poor librarian working the biology section that day was aghast. “A map of the cat, sir?” One can imagine the horror in her voice, the absolutely shocked expression on her face.
She managed, however, to set young Feynman straight. She led him to the appropriate zoology materials and to the charts that he needed – the “maps” of the cat he was asking for. This story can be read in full in his book, SURELY YOU’RE JOKING, MR. FEYNMAN! (which is an absolute gem of a read no matter what your field is), and Scientific America samples this charming anecdote in a great write-up as Feynman as biologist.
When I first read that story last year as an undergrad English student, I laughed at Feynman’s ineptitude and the naivety of a physics genius barging into the world of biology and attempting to conquer its vocabulary, only to stumble a bit at the starting line. Later, after spending a little time in the LIS program, studying reference work and the functions of the reference desk, I feel sorry for Little Richard. And I certainly do not feel sorry for the librarian!