They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Service vocation…

Service vocation

By Edgardo Civallero

The work of librarians (as memory managers, as literacy agents, as cultural promoters or as curators of intangible heritage...) is a service: an activity destined to the satisfaction of a population's needs. The need to obtain information or education. The need to get some amusement. The need to satisfy curiosity, to banish boredom, to bury sadness or loneliness. Needs which could be expressed... or which may remain hidden, waiting for the careful work of an information professional.

Library services are social services: an activity carried out by the society for the society, managing a social good: our culture. Yes, a social good, which shouldn't be a commercial good, as far as culture is the heritage of the entire humankind. An intangible, community heritage...

Of course, we know these ideas. We have read them in a good number of textbooks and journals. We have learnt them in LIS classes. We have heard them in conferences and lectures. But we are still very far from completely understanding them. We are not conscious of the importance of the concept "service"... or maybe we have not accepted that, in fact, our work is a service. And we can find quite a number of good examples which could illustrate these points.

We still can find, in our libraries, the famous bookshelves-keepers, those colleagues who, like Cerberus, fill their time keeping the books ordered, clean... and untouched. They forgot that the reason of the existence of these books are the very hands that will disorder them, the fingers that will turn and crush their pages, and the eyes that will look at them curiously.

We still can find, in our libraries, the bureaucratic librarians, lovers of "procedures" and "official channels", discouragers of reading and culture, barriers between the books and the readers, and responsible for all the unlucky stereotypes that characterize our profession.

We still can find, in our libraries, the techno-compu-digital librarians, those persons who believe that computers are all the future people needs, forgetting that one half of the world's population will never touch a keyboard... and forgetting the importance of the human contact, of the conversation with the users, of the need to listen the readers' words for improving the services.

Maybe we don't find these characters so often... or maybe we should look into a mirror to find them. Maybe I have exaggerated a bit in the description... but as an ancient Galician proverb says, "even if I don't believe in this, it does exist!"

There are other colleagues who still have not discovered the goblins who live among the shelves, or the whispers and tears of the damaged books, or the spirits of the characters of the novels, looking at us curiously when we are alone in the library. But that is not condemnable: the magic of libraries is just revealed to a few ones, those who have fell in love with the ink and the paper since they are children.

All those colleagues who haven't understood the need of giving a service to our readers (something very close to giving the whole life) are becoming real barriers between the documents and the users. And I seriously doubt that they find any pleasure in what they do, anyways.

And all those who think in users like "clients" are losing an important part of the meaning of the term "service". The culture must be given and spread, not sold. Because it is a good that belongs to all of us. It is our task to make it reach every corner of the world. This should be our goal.

Those who undertake our work without a true service vocation will never know the daily miracle of the contact with readers. And they will never find the real sense of a millennial profession, born to serve, born to be bearer of knowledge.