Musing

Resistance, Blueberry Muffins, Diversity and Change

November’s GLAM Blog Club theme being changes is rather apropos for me, given this is the month I finished my Diploma of Library and Information Services. I’ve already talked about it a little in my first blog post for this site, but I’m going to use this as an excuse to talk some more. I like talking.

clocks changes
Free photo courtesy of Canva.com

I am resistant to change sometimes. I was not an early adopter of ebooks or iPhones and only had my first experiences with e-audiobooks and VR this year. I use all of these things now and see the value in them, which leads me to consider a need to develop a greater willingness to try new things. My local library launched a smartphone app this year and I love the convenience. I don’t have to constantly log in and I can renew items with a press of a button.

During my studies, I would sometimes read articles or be party to discussions about libraries on two sides of change: one resistant and one that embraced it. The types who insist on strict policies without considering the people they affect always strike me as more interested in rules than the people they’re supposed to be helping.

I also must admit that in the past I was hesitant to use libraries because of the stereotype that they are dusty shushing places with pedantic staff just waiting for you to step out of line. While my high school library was anything but quiet during lunchtime, I also had experiences during primary school of pedantic, harsh librarians who didn’t seem to understand children make noise sometimes. Not to mention my high school library had incomprehensible rules about who could and couldn’t use the library during class time, even when older students had free periods.

On that front, I’m glad that many libraries are taking a more open, adaptable and friendly approach. I encountered a term referenced in an article Putting the Customer Back in Customer Service by Nanci Milone Hill in the Public Libraries magazine (vol. 54, no. 1–paywall, accessed via Informit), called a “blueberry muffin policy”, based on a conference speaker’s experience at an airport when she bought a blueberry muffin that was actually green. The man selling it assured her there was nothing wrong with it, but couldn’t explain why it was green and the speaker would have to “wait for the manager to explain why”. The speaker has since adopted this term to mean a policy so old that no one remembers why it is the way it is, that needs to be explained to patrons over and over again.

The term has stuck with me because a) it has a great story and b) this is a point of concern for many organisations. Public libraries in particular revolve around serving the local community. How can the community be served appropriately if they don’t even understand why they can and can’t do certain things? That’s one of the most infuriating things I experienced growing up, and encountering such situations even as an adult tend to regress me back to adolescent frustration.

@badger5 on Twitter has also discussed how the inflexible application of rules can cause problems for marginalised people (in this case, trans people) and make the library a much less welcoming place for people who need it.

Another facet of change that I have become more aware of in recent years is the push for diversity and inclusion. However, as Nathan Sentance notes in his post Diversity Means Disruption, which specifically talks about First Nations people, hiring diversely is not enough unless you’re also allowing for the possibility of change to your organisation. I won’t talk too much because you should read his post, but he discusses supporting First Nations employees, listening to them, and taking steps to avoid become personally defensive when they point out issues.

Others such as @foureyedsoul and Elle Dowd on Twitter have discussed problems with unilateral “all are welcome” policies that may, in fact, make public spaces less safe for marginalised and vulnerable people.

The lack of focus I have in this post is indicative of the huge range of changes that are happening in the GLAM sector. I could talk more, but I’ll probably just tie myself up in knots so I’ll just list a few important points I was trying to engage with here:

  • Many library staff (and patrons) can be resistant to change
  • Change is necessary to serve the community
  • Technology is scary but can have incredible benefits
  • Policies need updates to ensure they still serve the community
  • Pedantry about rules is alienating and should be avoided when possible
  • Change is important to ensure marginalised and vulnerable people are welcomed into the library
  • Change must be made responsibly to ensure spaces remain safe and welcoming
  • Diverse hiring practices are important but must be accompanied by a willingness to listen and change as a result

I may not have engaged with all these points as well as I would’ve liked, but they exist here in some form.

On a personal note, coming to the end of my library course means I’m facing a lot of changes in my own life. I’m still not sure where I’ll end up since I don’t have a job lined up and won’t have an indication of whether I may be accepted into a music degree until mid-December (and then won’t have full confirmation until mid-January). I’m somewhat limited in what I can do until I know what’s going on with that, but no matter where I’m going, my life is changing dramatically.

Bring it on.

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