Thursday, July 13, 2006

Robert Pinsky's Library Scene

I heard Pinsky read at the American Library Association conference mentioned in my 7/12/06 post and asked him about his poem "Library Scene." If you don't know it, you can find it in "The Figured Wheel" which is unfortunately not owned by the Olin Library (perhaps we can change that), Winter Park Public Library, or the University of Central Florida Libraries, but can be purchased on Amazon.

This has been an important poem for me for quite a while. As a librarian I have often used it, particularly the last two lines.

Because you are somehow someone that they need:
They come to you and you tell them how you read.

To make the point that librarians should not just provide access to information but we should be models of passionate readers for our users.

Most recently I quoted it during my interview at Rollins. I argued that we need, as Stanley Wilder of the University of Rochester noted (Chronicle of Higher Education 1/7/05, from Rollins you can find his article in Single Journals, Off campus access through OneLog for Windows), to move beyond information literacy to model the activities of scholarly reading and writing that are discipline specific and so much more nuanced and complex than the rather mechanistic tasks of information literacy. In a world in which information is going to be so readily available librarians and faculty need to help students and show them how to move beyond information to knowledge and understanding.

The college library, with committed personnel, embedded in small institutions, working closely and individually with faculty and students, is uniquely well placed to play this role and I contend that this can become one of the great selling points of a liberal arts education: students are not set adrift in a sea of information, but become part of a community of scholars seeking knowledge.

In a wonderful case of synchronicity, Pinsky said that the poem is inspired by the story a colleague of his at Wellesley College in the 1970's, Patricia Myers Spacks. As Pinsky remembers the story, she grew up in Deland, less than forty miles north of Winter Park. As a girl she read all the books in the town library and was given a budget to buy more and act as the town librarian. Each week she would read the New York Times Book Review and order books she felt like reading.

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