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The Atlantic: “The Librarians Are Not Okay”

The Librarians Are Not Okay – “…The graduate degree for librarians is not, typically, a master of arts, but a master of science—in library and information sciences. Librarians may adore books, but they are trained in the technical and data-driven work of running libraries. Unlike a privately owned bookstore, where the stock might reflect the tastes and preferences of the proprietor, at the library, books are acquired based on information about what its particular community wants and needs. “Librarians love data,” Dudenhoffer, who now coordinates the information-science program at the University of Missouri, told me. “Knowing how to analyze your community, knowing how to look at data, knowing how to look at circulation numbers, knowing how to look at population movement, those things are becoming increasingly important in what we do, and that drives all of this.” Public librarians, she said, are looking at such things as regional household income, age, education level, and racial and ethnic backgrounds while making their selections. They also consider patron requests. In a school library, this analysis might include information shared by students or teachers about the needs and interests of the current student body. Librarians who showcase books about underrepresented groups, including LGBTQ people, surely believe that these stories are valuable. But the librarians I spoke with insisted that they’re making these choices because an assessment determined that there was a patron need for these books, not to push some personal social agenda. Those controversial book displays? Many, Dudenhoffer said, are a means of letting patrons know that material they might be too shy or embarrassed to ask for is in stock. “It’s really unfair to characterize displays or programs as ‘woke,’” Dudenhoffer lamented. “That’s just such a terrible word to use right now. But it’s not about that. It’s about serving our community, and everyone in the community, to the best of our abilities.” What seemed most painful to the librarians I spoke with—even more than the personal attacks and fear of litigation—was the way in which book bans hinder their ability to connect their patrons to information that might help them…”

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