Why the Bookmobile Isn’t Just a Metaphor
A few days ago, the School of Library & Information Management at Emporia State University “unveil[ed] a marketing resource aimed at generating newfound excitement for librarianship and increasing the awareness of the many opportunities that an MLS degree can provide.”
In other words: a comic book.
Written by Matt Upson, drawn by C. Michael Hall, and colored by Dustin Evans, Supreme Librarians in Metaspace follows two disaffected cubicle-dwellers on a fantastic journey. At each stop along the way, they meet an iconic librarian who touts one aspect of the profession’s mission: collection, preservation, classification, creation, outreach, and—my favorite—access.
It’s my favorite not only because I think providing access to information to a range of populations is the most important role librarians have. (And, contrary to popular belief, it’s even more important in a culture increasingly dependent on digital technology but in which tens of millions don’t have home internet access.) It’s also my favorite because in the comic it’s embodied in a bookmobile!
It’s a metaphor dude. All it means is that information has to be accessible to anyone. Anytime. Anyplace.
But regardless, I think it’s incredibly telling—and incredibly important—that the principle of access is represented by mobility. Getting books to people in order to help them move has been one of the signal tasks of library extension since its emergence—for better and for…well, more problematic.
I do wonder, however, about the ways the language of digital utopianism (universalism, “everywhere” data, “anytime”) blurs with the language of librarianship here. Granted, we’re only looking at five panels on a single page. But if the bookmobile is a metaphor, and the librarians are “everywhere, sweetie” (in the presumably metadata-laden cyberspace-like ether of metaspace), what actual mechanisms are going to be used to guarantee “equal access to information…to anyone”?
It may be worth worrying, in other words, about how the digital fantasies of disembodied universality might negatively affect the way we think about the practices of librarianship, especially in a country where tens of millions don’t have high-speed home internet access and need physical (not metaphorical) library infrastructures to connect.
But, still, it’s a great comic—clever, attractive, and really quite interesting. I highly recommend giving it a read.