One night with the Radical Librarians of Oxford

Last night I attended my first meeting of the Oxford Radical Librarians Collective. As this was only their second meeting the group are still in a phase of settling in, discussing what we mean by “radical”, and discussing what the group as a whole want to do. There were some interesting discussions and points raised which we could have talked about all night.

I wanted to get some of my thoughts down and this post is an attempt at that. I should make clear, though it shouldn't need pointing out, that these are only my opinions and don’t necessarily represent the views of the group or the other attendees.

What is ‘radical’?
The word ‘radical’ has a lot of connotations that some people find uncomfortable. For some it implies politics, revolution, social reform. For some people this is an uncomfortable word and seems to be quite off putting. Getting past that is vital to people feeling comfortable at attending. The reason I came to the meeting, other than it’s a great excuse to meet other librarians, is because of my understanding of the term ‘radical’ being: a departure from tradition; something that is innovative or progressive. My belief is that we should be looking at libraries and the people who work in them in a new way. Challenging the status-quo doesn't mean an aggressive overhaul of everything. There is something very healthy about challenging the traditional way of doing things, even if things stay the same in the end. At least we’re doing them that way because it’s the best way and not just because it’s the way we've always done things.

Radical in the profession.
Last night we talked briefly about library qualifications and job titles. I’d love to have more discussion about what we call ourselves and how we identify ourselves within the profession. Is it okay to use “librarian” as a term for all library staff? Does it matter what our job titles are? Does it devalue the profession to have an ‘unqualified’ manager in charge instead of a librarian? I’d love to talk more about qualifications. Is it essential that library staff have a postgraduate library degree? Is there another way? Are we valuing qualifications over experience?

Radical in the library
An interesting point raised last night concerned what we call library users. Reader? Customer? Does what we call library users effect the way we see them and the relationship they have with us? As someone interested in digital libraries and the use of technology in libraries, I’d be interested in talking about the relationship between the library user and technology. Does the use of technology in a library help or hinder our relationship with the users? Does the increasing use of technology mean the skills and qualifications of library staff need to change?

Radical in the community
For people who work in academic libraries it can often be difficult to understand the challenges and daily practicalities of working in a public library. Encouraging more engagement between different library sectors seems one of our most difficult challenges, I wonder if it’s possible, and how to go about it. Should librarians be taking themselves out into the community and actively engaging with people, or just waiting for people to come to them? How can we engage more with other librarians and with library users, and potential library users?

Last night’s meeting left me with more questions than answers, and more curiosity for what future meetings may hold. It seems that people want many different things from the group and rather than this being a stumbling block it could be the spark we need to create even more events — social meetups, unconferences, casual chats, talks, workshops…the possibilities are endless. Now all we need to do is get the rest of the Oxford library community on-board!

Share your thoughts, if you were at the meeting or not, I’d be interested to hear people’s ideas on the topics I’ve raised above and hopefully we can feed comments back into the meetings for further discussion.