Assistant Professor, University of Hawai’i
at Manoa, Honolulu
Ed.D, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 2012; MLS, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, 2003
Photo by Andrew Wertheimer, Ph.D
As an LIS educator, LJ Mover & Shaker Vanessa Irvin has developed several courses, but none is more dear to her than “Storytelling.”
“We are all walking stories, so it’s vital that as librarians, we learn the art of listening to story…” says Irvin, an assistant professor in the library and information science program at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. “[We need to be] willing to share our own stories so that we best relate to patrons, communities, and stakeholders.”
Through her research, Irvin (Ed.D, University of Pennsylvania; MLS, Clarion University of Pennsylvania) explores the transformational value of storytelling and “librarian identity as a holistic construct of who we are as human beings, living life as an amalgamation of experience and memory.”
Indeed, to Irvin, librarianship, much like being a doctor or lawyer, is an identity, and librarians’ stories are central to that function. “Helping professionals all realize that they are never fully ‘off the clock,’” she says. “You’re a doctor 24/7. You’re a teacher, 24/7. We librarians must understand that it’s the same for us—we are librarians, 24/7.”
This “on call” thinking — where librarians can be tapped for information anytime, anywhere — is to Irvin the key to professional development. “We are always living story, observing story, and sharing story,” she says. “So in library school, I believe that storytelling is a must-must course that everyone should take, because through storytelling we learn how to convey our identities, and to better relate to and understand others via experience and memory.”
To better relate to and understand others, Irvin has been a champion of street literature—her book The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Street Literature (ALA Editions) was awarded the 2012 American Library Association/Reference and User Services Association Zora Neale Hurston Award, given for demonstrating leadership in promoting African American literature.
“It’s important for public and school librarians to develop their collections for street literature/urban fiction from as many cultural lenses as possible, so that the reading public is exposed to multiple experiences of city life,” she says, adding that urban fiction is in step with current publishing trends with ebooks, audiobooks, and independent publishing.
We asked Irvin, as an educator who has taught in three ALA-accredited library schools, what qualities she sees in her students—the future librarians. “Consistent across locations, geographies, and contexts, what students are bringing to LIS is an abiding interest for understanding how people skills deeply impact library engagement and experience.”
While she finds that LIS students are deeply committed to understanding how to use technologies to provide services, “there is equally a serious bend back to pre-service librarians wanting to sincerely understand information services from a holistic social justice-oriented stance,” she says. “These students anticipate servicing a wide variety of people throughout their careers, and they want to do the work equitably as advocates for intellectual and social freedom.”
You’re passionate that librarians understand the literary trends of the reading public as an expression of human experience in history. In what ways can librarians support the trends of what the reading public requests, demands, and needs?
Reading is vital for everyone, library users and librarians alike, for continued lifelong learning and experience. For we librarians, we need to be constant readers of what our patrons read so that we can know and understand our communities in order to offer the best information services possible to meet patrons’ information needs. Reading, in all its multimodal conceptions, is a literacy practice that impacts how we navigate our lives in the world. Reading reveals the nuances of our own ideas and imaginations and opens up space for us to further understand our own place in the world. Reading is powerful because it is intimately interactive whether our reading is coming from a textual place, a visual space, or a symbiotic experience with both text and imagery. I’m very passionate about we librarians understanding the processes and impacts of reading, varied human responses to reading, and how the library plays a vital role in people’s reading lives.
Street lit emerged as a literary genre almost 20 years ago. What is the ongoing impact of street literature / urban fiction?
I believe that it is important for public and school librarians to develop their collections for street literature / urban fiction from as many cultural lenses as possible so that the reading public is exposed to multiple cultural experiences of city life. Just as readers from all walks of life are exposed to variations of experience in romance, science fiction, fantasy, and any other literary genre, the same holds true for urban fiction. Additionally, urban fiction is in step with current publishing trends with ebooks, audiobooks, and independent publishing. Readers continue to prolifically read urban fiction.
As an LIS educator, what gifts and talents is the next generation of librarians bringing to LIS?
In my professional experiences thus far, a diverse group of students continue to seek the masters’ degree for LIS. I’ve taught in three ALA-accredited library schools, and consistent across locations, geographies, and contexts, the next generation of librarians is a diverse group of people culturally and generationally. Having said that, what people are bringing to LIS is an abiding interest for understanding how people skills deeply impact library engagement and experience. LIS students are interested to learn ways in which empathy and cultural competency are epistemological stances that must be harnessed and applied to library and information services because we are always helping people from all walks of life.
Thus, I find that LIS students are deeply committed to understanding how to use technologies to provide services, yes; but there is equally a serious bend back to pre-service librarians wanting to sincerely understand information services from a holistic social justice-oriented stance because they anticipate working with and servicing a wide variety of people throughout their careers, and they want to do the work equitably as advocates for intellectual and social freedom.
Your earlier research with Street Lit involved working with public librarians reading the genre for the purpose of professional development. How did your research with Street Lit evolve into your current research focus, and what do you anticipate as potential impacts of your current work for the professional practices of public librarians?
What I learned from my research in working with public librarians reading Street Lit is that librarians experience authentic professional development that benefits their professional practices when working collaboratively in a confidential forum responding to literature via dialogue, questioning, debate, and even silence. Public librarians often deal with some of the most intense aspects of information services within the field of LIS. My research explores the isolation and disaffectation in public librarianship due to lack of funding for professional development coupled with navigating varied social issues that are enacted in the library day after day.
The Librarians’ Inquiry Forum (LINQ) employs practitioner-based inquiry methods for ongoing, real-time, collaborative, in-house professional development of public librarians to study these issues. LINQ uses social media as a means to close the geographic and networking boundaries of public librarians in branch and rural locations so that they can interactively share ideas, information, and resources in real-time, while at work.
An important consideration for LINQ’s conceptual framework is “reading while we work” (thanks to Dr. Alison Lewis of Drexel University LIS). In that vein, LINQ aspires to empower public librarians to question what reading is for them and their patrons, and what reading does for them and their patrons in terms of re-perceiving or rather, re-reading, social interactions in the library as data to be questioned, critiqued, analyzed and understood, in collaborative ways. Previously I worked with The Free Library of Philadelphia and the Westchester (NY) Public Library System with librarian inquiry groups. I am currently working with the Hawai’i State Public Library System in fully launching the LINQ model.
Potential impacts for my research include (re)connected colleague librarians as a community of practice across miles and geographic barriers within the same library system to confidentially share professional experiences for collaborative problem-solving, mutual support, and possibly group-based authorship of best practices publications for public library systems by public librarians themselves. For more information about LINQ, please visit: http://www.linqforum.com. Thank you for this opportunity.
Sponsored by SAGE Publishing