The theme prevalent in the day’s professional talks was social justice. In each presentation, both Marybeth Zeman and Michael Edison spoke about the dire need for professionals to serve communities, particularly the underserved and misrepresented. From the traditionalist approach to library services in prisons to the future of technological services, each presenter was adamantly persistent that those in the audience provide the best library and information services possible, in light of circumstance.
Zeman, author of the recently published Tales of a Jailhouse Librarian: Challenging the Juvenile Justice System One Book at a Time, recounted her efforts to introduce reading to incarcerated youths of a Nassau County detention facility. She mused about the “spiritually enriching” impact of reading on these troubled youths. With a small book-cart of allowable donated material and a makeshift index, Zeman provides inmates an opportunity to improve literacy and foster a new sense of responsibility. She recounts the experience of an inmate, Marvin, who she recalled hearing that maybe he will take his newfound love for reading back with him to the outside world. This new hope, increased literacy skills, and an overall more positive outlook on reading and going to school for Marvin affirms Zeman as an advocate for library services to all incarcerated individuals.
Not only does Zeman address the need to increase literacy skills of these juveniles by providing them opportunities to read, but these books are breaking discriminatory barriers upheld in the communities of these troubled at risk youths. In these communities, there is no older white middle to upper class woman approaching these boys on the street in hopes of persuading them to read. In the detention center, preconceived notions of age, sex, race, and class are forgone and replaced with a true desire to read.
Zeman concludes with a call to libraries on the outside. These boys in her detention center are not for-life inmates. They will return to the outside world and will be in dire need of direction, care, help, and understanding if they are to remain outside the concrete cells. Libraries must recognize the needs of these young people coming out of jail with outreach services and, more importantly, acceptance. Further discussing library services for families impacted by incarceration, Zeman advocates for library programs as a means to maintain family connectivity, proven to keep recidivism rates lower.
In stark contrast to the rudimentary tactics Zeman employs to serve the incarcerated community, keynote speaker Michael Edison discusses the power of ‘dark matter’ in today’s hyper-connected world and its impact on the future library and information services. Edison defines dark matter as an invisible power driving movement, which, on the Internet translates into the open, social, peer-to-peer, read-write communication of information. It is this dark matter force, Edison argues, that drives interaction with the community and only by mastering the use of this dark matter will libraries and cultural institutions truly meet unique community needs.
Edison identifies the current problem with US cultural institutions as the vast misrepresentation of culture in communities. Communities do not naturally identify with institutions of culture. These institutions are an image of how professionals perceive culture, not how the community the institution was built to serve views culture. To harness the power of the community and garner an understanding of what the community wants in a cultural institution, Edison argues, is to examine community created dark matter because, “the global demand for learning and scholarship is not being met”.
This globalized forward thinking is revolutionizing the way cultural institutions view community. Community is everyone with access to a linked network. The digital presence is more important now than ever before. Edison gives examples of websites giving museum “untours” and the interpretation of art by children – the community creating information resources for themselves that better meet their needs than that which the cultural institution provides.
So, how does an institution tap into this vital community resource? Edison believes it must simply operate to support its mission and vision. In doing so, old policy must be sacrificed for greater value. The people’s everyday use of social medias should not be ignored. A networked institution is in touch with its community.
From one end of the service spectrum to another, the theme consistent is community. The community dictates services. An institution should not impose what it believes to be the best without actually researching what the community wants. If the community wants more fantasy novels, deliver. If the community wants a less-scholarly interpretation of a work of art, provide that service. Social justice dictates everyone deserves the opportunity to access, and we as information institutions have the ability to provide equitable access for all.