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The Many-Mode Human

Today on It’s All Good, Alice posted a thread talking about the need to continue many non-digital services, commenting about library staff, “I had lost sight of the fact that we need all kinds of people in our libraries.”

Many of us are already “all kinds of people.” I have many modes when I am not expecting or desiring digital services, even when others expect me to prefer them. I already started a kerfuffle on Web4Lib when I talked about how I prefer to be an “analog” student and instructor. Online teaching, in both directions, teacher and student, is my least-preferred method for learning. I learn much more effectively in a physical classroom, with a flesh-and-blood instructor, a small community of students, my pen scratching away on a paper tablet. But I understand that all kinds of learning are good. (It’s All Good, right?)

In the same way, I like browsing books on shelves. There may be times when I just want the information, in whatever form. The other night I needed to skim Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis for a piece I am working on, and finding it online was a great relief. But when I went to the physical library here in Palo Alto (earning a sticker, I Got My Library Card Today, which I have placed on my school binder), I had a whole new discovery process based on skimming and browsing paper books on metal shelves, and I ended up with a pile of books far more interesting than the list I had carried into the library from browsing the catalog.

On the other hand, I think I’m a better professional for having all of these sides to me–Analog Karen, Digital Karen, and the Techno-Analog Remix Karen–and I think librarians need that ecumenicism to truly serve their communities. A librarian providing storytime for toddlers doesn’t need to be able to understand the innards of the OAI protocol. But she does need to appreciate and respect the role in library services of those who do. That works the other way, as well. The systems librarian with a paperback tucked in her purse at all times, who skims the new-book shelves on her way in and out of the library, is going to be able to connect to the broader mission of librarianship much better than someone who has never developed (or even sadder, lost) our classic connection to books and reading.

Very few of us live in one “format silo.” We can learn a lot about service to our communities by listening not only others, but to our inner voices. Let us continue to champion information in all of its manifestations.

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