Thursday, June 14, 2007

ATLA Day 3 -- A Librarian's Calling

The Thursday morning plenary address was delivered by Joey Rodger, a long time Quaker who has been a director of both the Public Library Association and the Urban Libraries Council, and who has recently retired from the position of Executive Director of the Pendle Hill Peace Center in Wallingford Pennsylvania.

Joey's address was titled Keeping the Word: Reflections on Sacred and Secular Aspects of Librarianship. In her speech, she reflected on the experience of being called to a vocation of librarianship. "Calling" was defined as parallel to "invitation", and great invitations in our lives are manifest in a stream of small, daily invitations. Joey reminded us that when you do something that you are not called to, you usually get in the way of someone who is. Our sense of calling should come from an understanding of our gifts and dispositions -- there is a "sweet spot" where the world's needs intersect our gifts and calling. Joey twice emphasized that people are sacred, texts are not. Or if there is a sacredness in a text like the Bible, it is latent until a person reads it and is injected with that sacredness. Librarians work to join peoples' hearts and minds with the texts that they need. Joey quoted George Fox, "Walk cheerfully over the face of the earth answering that of God in every man."

She left the audience with several questions:

  • What was your most whole-hearted hope when you began your work as a librarian? Is that hope still alive?
  • How do you feel about the people you serve? That includes authors as well as patrons, staff, and administrators.
  • Do you love them enough to serve them?
  • What are you listening for? Where are you being led?
I was moved by Joey's words. A sense of vocation is important to my work as a theological librarian, and I thought she did a good job of fleshing out how that call is experienced by many librarians. I particularly liked her use of "skillful" as a criteria for how good or valuable something is. I have long loved the poem, The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart by W.B. Yeats which talks about the "wrong of unshapely things". Part of my calling as a librarian is to do what I can to address the unshapely or unskillful things that I find around me.

At its best, librarianship is an anti-entropic endeavor that seeks to bring order out of chaos. Like washing dishes or dusting the house, it is an endeavor that must often be renewed as things do not stay in order unless we expend energy to keep them that way. I have found this struggle for order to be a rewarding part of being a theological librarian.

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