On Creativity and the Value of Other Disciplines

“Programming for Librarians.” “Social Media for Librarians.” “Pedagogy for Librarians.”

I’m on (too) many listservs, so advertisements for classes like these cross my inbox on the daily: Courses where someone (usually a librarian, but not always) offers to interpret a subject for librarians, teaching us what we need to know about a given subject within our library context. These type of courses seem like they’re pretty popular, are absolutely a time-saver, and are a great way for librarians to get exposed to new ideas and incorporate them into their work. But I worry that these courses might also stifle creativity.

“Creation of an abstract mural.” User: LaurMG

We’ve talked about the idea of transfer many times on this blog: The idea that learning occurs when a person is able to take a piece of information and apply it to a new context. “<Insert Subject Here> for Librarians” courses skip the initial mastery of a idea or discipline and go directly to transferring it to the library situation. This is valuable because most of us don’t have time to learn the latest thing in our field, let alone in other fields. It’s also a less intimidating way to get introduced to a new discipline that might seem unfriendly or obtuse. I recognize and value these reasons for these courses to exist. But when courses like these are as far as we go into learning, then they are problematic.

Reason #1: Every class is inherently influenced by the biases, beliefs, and interpretations of its teacher. That means that someone else has decided, on your behalf, what are the important things to learn about the discipline, particularly how it relates to libraries. It’s possible that the teacher makes the exact same choices about what would be valuable to your context and interprets it in the same way as you would, but that’s far from certain. While it might be obvious when theory is being interpreted for you, it might also not be. That means we might be missing out on connections, complications, and affinities that could be applied to our work. Which leads me to…

Reason #2: The process of transfer encourages creative thinking. To take disciplinary theory or skills and apply it to a new context is challenging (what does <a given topic> have to do with librarianship in practice?). It requires a certain amount of creativity and mental sweat to make that leap. When that leap happens, though, we see some really interesting and creative thoughts about libraries and librarianship.

That mental work is less likely to happen when connections have already been drawn for us. When thrust into an unfamiliar situation, it’s natural to try and draw meaning to what we already know and care about. But we have to put ourselves into those potentially frightening and new situations to even make that process possible. Which means these “<Subject> for Librarians” courses are great entry points, but not enough—the folks teaching these courses are drawing those connections from other disciplines, but to keep librarianship vibrant with new ideas, this needs to be the norm, not the exception.

Even if someone else has already taken those courses and investigated connections between a given discipline and librarianship, they shouldn’t be the only ones: You or I or anyone else might see something different and new. So not only should we take these classes targeted for librarians, but we should take courses that are not targeted for us: That’s where new ideas are likely to spark.

(Endnote: This post was inspired by an excellent presentation by Lindsey Rae at LOEX, where she drew ideas from dramatic theory and applied them to library instruction. She took a drama class, then took away lessons for her practice from there. Highly recommended, and I’d love to see more presentations like this.)

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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Dani Brecher

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