The ivory tower and the street

My academic library is in an area of Portland, OR that’s starting to transition.  Many of our closest neighbors are missions, shelters, and other social services, and there are plenty of folks who sleep on the sidewalks and under the bridges.  On the other hand, the library is in a beautifully restored 19th-century block of warehouses, along with the rest of the University of Oregon in Portland–and a handful of creative, financial, and other firms.  Next door to us is the brand-new headquarters of Mercy Corps, a major international aid agency. And going in across the street is the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, renovating yet another of the old neighborhood buildings.

A little further down the street, an artist, writer, and activist named Laura Moulton has set up a project called Street Books, providing a free library service to people who live outside.  With funding from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council, Laura’s repurposed a snazzy, vintage-looking delivery bicycle to hold about 50 books and a card catalog.  She keeps regular hours–two shifts a week in two different locations–and checks her books out without due dates or home addresses required.  She gets them back, too.

Reading a little about the project on Laura’s site, and passing by her setup as she’s working, has made me reflect a little on some of the most basic values that underlie what we do in all libraries.  Here’s the CLA’s list of “Our Values.”  I like the first one in particular.

We believe that libraries and the principles of intellectual freedom and free universal access to information are key components of an open and democratic society.

Diversity is a major strength of our Association.

An informed and knowledgeable membership is central in achieving library and information policy goals.

Effective advocacy is based upon understanding the social, cultural, political and historical contexts in which libraries and information services function.

Laura’s project walks the talk–whether you call it art or librarianship, or something else completely.  I’ll be trying to take a little of her style and substance into the work I do in my library.  Maybe you can too?

street books logo

Cross-posted at Re: Generations, a blog for Canadian academic librarians.

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One thought on “The ivory tower and the street

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