If you ask the average person on the street what the first thing is that you need to make a library, four out of five will say, “books.” (The fifth will be watching Vines of cats trying to land on slippery surfaces and will be too distracted to answer.) (This person needs to work on their information literacy—which we will cover in a later entry—and also their social skills, which their mother should have covered for them before they got out of diapers.) But lo, my would-be librarian chums! “Books” makes a very fine bookshelf. A library has a mission.
As you develop your collection, consider: what are your goals? To what silent drumbeat does your program march? You’ve decided you want to get kids books. But why? What greater cause?
This is the number one thing that I love about the librarian profession: there is a greater cause. It’s easy for the Muggles to simplify the role of the librarian to “the lady who checks out books and says ‘shh.’”* Dear public, I will let you in on a secret: if your librarian is worth her salt, she is a crusader. She is not getting you books. She is promoting your informational literacy and sallying forth in defense of your intellectual freedom. She is defending your right to know anything that you want to know and to be able to do anything that you want to do.** Beneath that cardigan sweater beats a heart that is fiercely, relentlessly dedicated to the service of making mankind as great and smart and able as it possibly can be. (And we don’t say shh anymore, either.)
And so! Your library has a mission. Of course it does. You are creating an institution of education, or entertainment, or empowerment, or some combination of the three simply by being in a position of giving information to other humans. This is all about determining how you will shape it.
Your mission statement can be as humble or glorious as you choose. But if you’re bringing information to young people, do us all a favor and shoot for glory.
In creating my mission statement for the Skybrary, I focused on a few of the school’s founding principles: literacy, education, and love of learning. It’s a school library, so I want its collection and activities to work powerfully in conjunction with the courses offered—to use that (exhausted, but true) 2000s-era buzzword, to promote synergy with the school curriculum. So, education had to be first and foremost in the mission.
I also want the library to help students be better at navigating the sea of information in which they are, increasingly, wading all of the time. It’s not productive to wring our hands about “kids these days and the internet”—as providers of information, it’s our duty to help them powerfully and effectively sort the good information from the misleading. So “information literacy” went into the mission-mix.
Finally—and I understand that different institutions have different goals here—I want to create a culture in which reading is fun, vibrant and gorgeous. This betrays my inner-child librarian more than any other topic discussed here today: I’ve always loved reading; I think it makes people smarter and more articulate, allows them to explore their real world and their emotional landscape in a safe space, and gives them the language to connect with others over what they encounter there. So a rich reading culture was an integral part of the mission statement as well. (And this, as you’ll see in the collection development policy, means a library containing lots of fun and entertaining books—if a child learns to love reading by reading graphic novels, they may be, someday, intrinsically motivated to pick up those celebrated classics that you once couldn’t have paid them to read.)
Finally, who is your library supporting? Is it just the students? If not, who else? The faculty? The parents? The broader community? Consider what this looks like for you. Because of our space (limited) and our location (pretty rural, with no real walk-up community access), the Skybrary supports primarily the students, but also, where it can, the teachers (including resources on teaching and professional development).
And so, after all of that hand-waving and general high-falutin’, I bring you, dear ones, the mission of the Skybrary:
The mission of the Skybridge Academy Library is to support the education, build information literacy, and promote a vibrant reading culture for the students and staff of Skybridge Academy.
Simple, right? Short, sweet, says everything I want to say in a sentence. Some mission statements run longer (there are great examples compiled here), but that’s not necessary, especially if you’ve got other supporting documentation (library philosophy, collection development policy, etc).
Coming up with your own mission? Consider the mission and goals of your school or institution. Let me know what you include, and be glorious.
*If we are lucky, perhaps also “sexy librarian.” Not because objectification is particularly lucky, but because whew, at least we get the multidimensionality of more than one stereotype. What do dentists ever get? I ask you.
** Don’t even get me started on how archivists make history