Keeping Up With… Slow Librarianship

Keeping

This edition of Keeping Up With… was written by Lori Spradley.

Lori Spradley is Research and Instruction Librarian for the College of Human Sciences at Auburn University, email: lcs0089@auburn.edu.

What is Slow Librarianship?

As Meredith Farkas noted in a 2020 presentation to the New York Library Association, Slow Librarianship is based on the Slow Food movement, which started in Italy due to globalization's destructive impacts on food systems and culture. Soon, it became an international movement aligned around the appreciation of local food, the enjoyment of said food, and conscientious food sourcing. The movement promoted sustainability, social justice, and quality values, and consumers found pleasure in a system centered on competency and profit. Since 2006, other fields, like education and medicine, have adopted those ideas.[1] Library professionals and researchers have continued to explore its potential to promote more meaningful evaluations of library services, making it a timely and relevant approach for information professionals to consider.

In 2017, Julia Glassman published an article about slow librarianship and suggestions on how information professionals should view their evolving roles as librarians.[2] Glassman emphasized the empowerment of librarians in Slow Librarianship. This practice allows their expertise and dedication to guide their work, focusing on providing services and resources for a positive patron experience. Despite the influx of new unsecured technology, such as AI, and the culture of hurried lifestyles, libraries can be seen as one of the only places that embrace the slowness of living in the now. Building connections is vital to librarians, and having the space to build relationships with their patrons is deeply apparent. Librarians earn the trust of their patrons by becoming expert researchers who can uncover information that is uncoverable by others. Librarians have the knowledge and skills to assess credible, accurate, and relevant information. They become adaptable at presenting said research into digestible bites of information to be procured by all.

Slow Librarianship in Practice

The evolving relationship between librarians and patrons is a process that requires time and patience to cultivate. Farkas, a vocal advocate for Slow Librarianship, echoes this sentiment. In a post on her blog Information Wants to Be Free, she articulates her stance on this approach, emphasizing the need for librarians and other information professionals to respect change while prioritizing the crucial role of the patron-librarian relationship. She defines Slow Librarianship as "an antiracist, responsive, and values-driven practice that opposes neoliberal value" and highlights how library workers build relationships by interpreting and meeting their patrons' needs, providing valuable services to their communities. This approach involves “slowing down” internally, and, as Farkas notes, focusing on “learning and reflection, collaboration and solidarity, valuing all kinds of contributions, and supporting staff as whole people.”[3]

Reflecting on the role of the librarian is essential for growth in the field of library services. Slow Librarianship requires self-reflection for those who want to develop a mindset that can analytically gauge current structures within the library. These reflective steps can be viewed in four steps.

Relationship-Building
A prime example is the work of public libraries nationwide that strongly focus on community engagement and building relationships with patrons. This approach has led to a significant increase in patron satisfaction and library usage. Librarians prioritize building solid connections with patrons to understand their needs and preferences better. Another example is academic library liaisons working alongside department heads and instructors to provide access to materials using library guides and engage with patrons via online learning programs such as Canvas and participating in activities led by the Student Government Association, like giving students free food or drink.

Understanding Patron Needs
Slow Librarianship encourages librarians to take the time to understand their patrons' unique needs rather than assuming a one-size-fits-all approach. Librarians should invest emotionally in their communities and be given the time to learn about patron culture and how they use the library. Library administrators should allow for a culture of knowledge that includes attending community events consisting of workshops and public library board meetings. Library workers should unite and embrace how the library works around the people who use its services.

Creating and cultivating a learning environment takes time. It can occur if the administration, librarians, and staff stay committed to positive patron outcomes. Librarians and library workers should have time to discuss the services offered. Periodic meetings between librarians and staff about patron needs can benefit all parties involved. They should also be allotted a suitable amount of time to assess the information they receive from patrons. These robust information exchanges can come from the patrons via surveys or informal conversations with library patrons.

Equitable Services
By focusing on equitable services, librarians can ensure that all community members can access the necessary resources and support. Realizing that library services were not available for everyone in the past could be the first step to change. Acknowledging the past can be vital to building solid relationships with all community residents. As Frances Brady notes, "Academia, in general, and libraries, in particular, continue to benefit White people at the expense of BIPOC individuals."[4]

Librarians must prioritize equitable services to guarantee that all community members have access to essential resources and support. Librarians can ensure their offerings are distributed and utilized relatively without bias or censorship. This approach helps eliminate disparities or barriers and promotes inclusive access to resources for all community members. Librarians should evaluate participating in community activities and programming. Equitable services ensure everyone has equal access to the resources and support they need, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Resistance to Cultural Pressures to Hurry
Slow Librarianship strongly advocates for librarians to resist the pressure to rush and prioritize quality and reflection in their work. Emphasis on slowing down and ensuring the best possible service is crucial to Slow Librarianship, strongly advocating for librarians to resist the cultural pressure to rush and prioritize quality and reflection in their work. Librarians need to take time to provide quality service for Slow Librarianship. Realize it is okay to talk to patrons about their interests, sit with students, and ask them if they are having a pleasant semester.

Conclusion

Implementing these structures takes energy, research, and, most importantly, time. Gaining knowledge from those around us, along with life lessons, takes dedication. Recognizing and working to improve faculty and staff's mental and physical well-being should be prioritized for any well-working and socially conscious library. Motivate within the library and extend this galvanization out into the community. Motivate each other and keep asking, how do we meet the needs of our patrons? Answering these questions keeps the libraries and librarians relevant and progressive.

Notes

[1] Meredith Farkas. “Resisting Achievement Culture with Slow Librarianship,” presented November 2020, YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g980DnibndI.

[2] Julia Glassman. "The Innovation Fetish and Slow Librarianship: What Librarians Can Learn From the Juicero." In the Library with the Lead Pipe (October 18, 2017), https://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2017/the-innovation-fetish-and-slow-librarianship-what-librarians-can-learn-from-the-juicero/.

[3] Meredith Farkas. "What is slow librarianship?" Information Wants to Be Free (October 18, 2021), https://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2021/10/18/what-is-slow-librarianship/.

[4] Frances Brady. “Scaffolded Information Literacy Curriculum: Slow Librarianship as a Rejection of the Hegemony of Neoliberalism.” Journal of New Librarianship 8, no. 2 (2023): 29–40, https://doi.org/10.33011/newlibs/14/2.