I’m going to try something new today. I’m going to leave off with the blithering idiot thing and try not to use a single exclamation point or all-caps word. I shall not ramble or rave. I shall attempt, today, to write like an adult, because I want to tell you about the Library Farm. More to the point, I want to tell you about Meg Backus, librarian and agriculturalist and deep thinker extraordinaire. But let me start at the beginning:
I met Meg when the idea of applying to the LIS program was a mere twinkle in my eye, way back in, like, November or December of 2008. Something like that. Anyway, it was cold. Our dogs were playing with a whole bunch of other dogs at Barry Park, and mine was being snotty as usual because she’s part chow and chows are like that……..but I digress. Meg was a second-year at SU, and I was struck by a) her enthusiasm for the program (a good sign, I said to myself) and b) her ideas about what a library could be (which gave me both and “aha moment” and an “uh-oh” moment at the same time. “Aha! This program is going to open my mind to new and fascinating ideas!” and “Uh-oh, I’m in for more than I bargained for, and what if I’m not creative enough? What if I’m not a game-changer? Will I be thrown out of library school for being a schlub? AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!)
Ugh. Rambling and shouting and exclamation points.
Back to Meg: she talked about what information is, and what it means to society vs. what society thinks it means. She asked a lot of questions, like: Why couldn’t a library lend out power tools and sewing machines? Why couldn’t a farm also be a library? Why can’t we let go of this idea that a library is only about written documents? What is a document, anyway? I said, “Hmmmm…….I don’t know,” but I was actually thinking, “Hmmmmm…….library school is going to make my head explode.”
We have all been asked the question in classes: what is information? And the answer is usually along the lines of “It’s raw data that has been made useful.” We don’t usually answer: “It’s a vegetable.” But why shouldn’t we? Meg writes about it this way:
This library service [the farm] would aim to educate, collecting a usable set of materials where roots and vegetables are considered kinds of public documents. It considers the processes involved in growing food along with the food itself to be information. It assumes Michael Buckland’s conception of the thingness of information, and catalogs the actual stuff that aims to convey knowledge or understanding. The documents in this library farm would partially sustain members of the community, physically, socially, and economically.
So just to be clear, there are libraries with community gardens. But the idea of a librarian who sees the garden not as a separate entity and discipline that just happens to be on the grounds of a library, but as a form of information literacy…….who sees a vegetable as exactly the same thing as a book…….that just blew my mind. It’s “agricultural literacy,” baby—and what’s more: SHE’S FARMING A LIBRARY RIGHT NOW, AND YOU CAN ACTUALLY GO SEE IT IN PERSON.
Yeah, I used all caps. So sue me.
Anyway, Meg works at NOPL (Northern Onondaga Public Library), and she is doing exactly what people in the library field know is vitally needed right now: she’s keeping libraries relevant. She is, in her own words again,
reclaiming for libraries a role in public life as institutions for learning and participation (and equal access to that learning and participation), rather than as warehouses for books.
I’m a huge fan, can you tell? But you should take a trip to the Cicero library branch and see the farm for yourself, preferably before it freezes over, which will be soon because we’re in Syracuse, y’all. And sit down and have a chat with Meg—I guarantee you’ll walk away inspired. Plus, you’ll be convinced once and for all that librarians are not only smart, helpful, extremely useful people, but that they also HAVE THE POWER TO SAVE THE WORLD!