Career Strategies for Librarians
Libraries: Our Last Best Hope: Towards a Personal Philosophy of Librarianship
by David I. Harvie
A while ago, our library director asked the librarians to write their personal philosophies of librarianship.
This is what I submitted.
With the deepest apologies to my Muse….
It is said that “Duty commands but Honor obeys”. If this is so, then what does Honor demand of us as a
profession and as individuals?
As librarians, our first duty is to the Truth.
As a profession we are called to bear witness to the Truth of information. If information is that which
defines and enhances reality, then by providing our patrons access to information, we allow them to take
control of their reality, their lives and their destinies. It empowers them and redeems them by preventing
them from becoming victims of an imposed and alien reality. We bear witness to the Truth because as
librarians, we believe that Tomorrow cannot be held hostage and ransomed off to the highest bidder, for
it is the inheritance of All. For somewhere in all the books we have selected, catalogued and shelved,
somewhere amongst the pages of all the written thoughts of other men, other women, other times, lies
that one unexpected passage that will irrevocably change us inside. What we become then is difficult to
say. Less human, or more human? Human enough, or too human? This is the fundamental question of
Our second duty is to Service.
We serve. We do not judge.
We serve ALL because we believe that ALL are worthy of our service. The measure of our
professionalism and commitment is how we serve the so-called “least” of us, whether they are the
young or old, homeless, handicapped, the mentally ill or challenged. It is not for us to judge or dictate
how our patrons choose to seek the perfection of their lives, their minds or their souls.
We serve because as librarians we believe in something greater than ourselves. As librarians we
believe that each new voice enriches us and ennobles us, and each voice lost diminishes us.
Our third and most important duty is to Compassion and Humility.
We should be efficient in our duties, but not at the price of compassion. We may take pride in our service
of others and in our professional accomplishments, but never to the point of arrogance. For it is
compassion and humility which shows us where the true nature of our service lies. Being a librarian
does not mean deciding what to do based on whether or not it serves some warped sense of
professionalism or ego. It means serving our patrons rather than “the Rules.” It means doing the right
thing simply because it is the right thing. Because as librarians we understand that infinite power and
infinite wisdom are not enough without infinite compassion.
As librarians we move between fact and fiction, between fantasy and reality, between incantation and
equation. We mark the shifting edges between them all and we guard the sum of things. While we may
not be able to turn bullets and bombs, we can help to turn hearts and minds. Because we understand
that giving someone a book is the ultimate subversive act.
As librarians we struggle against intolerance, ignorance, chaos, despair and the darkness of the soul.
We fight against the death of hope and the death of dreams. Against this danger we can never
surrender. If we fail in our duty as librarians, our towns, cities, countries and world will become a poorer
and darker place. If we fail in our duty, then none of us will be saved, and our values and beliefs, our
history and culture, the best and worst of us, will not even be a memory. We are what we are because as
librarians we believe that to forget is to die.
Our libraries tell of the past, converse with the present, and speak to the future. They enable us to
rediscover our dreams when the world has stolen them from us. Each new idea enriches and ennobles
us. Each idea lost or censored, diminishes us. Although our collections may be written in many
languages, they all speak in the language of hope, in the language of the heart and of the soul.
Our libraries allow us to choose something better and give us the courage to go on. They shelter us, they
transform us, they propel us and they redeem us. Above all, our libraries are our last best hope.
About the Author:
David I. Harvie is a renegade librarian and library apostate. He is currently the Systems Librarian at the
Stratford Public Library. He is old enough to know better, is not married, has no children, has no cats,
and lives alone with the voices in his head. He is the Chief Scout of the Outriders of Reality. He has
always been who is he is becoming. Visit his blog at http://homepage.mac.com/dharvie/iblog/index.html.
Article published July 2005
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.