On Libraries, Cages, and Containers

When I was stranded in San Diego in January for the ALA Midwinter meeting, I took some time one morning to enjoy the weather and walk next to the bay.  One of the great parts of San Diego is the public art that seems to be everywhere, no doubt because the climate makes the outdoors so enjoyable.

I was walking along, looking touristy, snapping pictures, when I came upon a piece that captured my attention. Even after I walked on, I found myself thinking about it again and again.  In case the image isn’t clear, this piece is a sculpture of a bird cage. There is a tree growing through and outside of the cage, and the birds are all perched outside the cage on the leafy branches.

It seems to me that some of the big questions we have in librarianship are about the containers we’ve always relied upon. Two of these are particularly important: buildings and books.  As we become more mobile and content becomes more available through different means, books and buildings are more cages for the library than just containers.  Some of our work can be done in those cages, but so much of what we have to offer will flourish if we let the content grow beyond what the cages can hold.  We can’t allow the containers to define us anymore. Thinking beyond the container expands to ideas like embedded librarianship, mobile services, and more.

As I argued a while ago in a guest post on Buffy Hamilton’s Unquiet Librarian blog, libraries should be about freedom, not books or buildings or any particular physical container.  What’s caging you? Let’s push outward, grow upward, flourish.


Image:  “Liberation” by Brandon Roth, San Diego Public Art



4 Responses to “On Libraries, Cages, and Containers”

  1. 1 Fran Bullington 03.12.2011 at 11:37 pm

    “What’s caging you?”

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post. What is caging me? Budgets, filters, teachers who fight change and technology, and me. I cage myself by not allowing myself to see beyond the bars.

    • 2 bethfriese 03.15.2011 at 2:05 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!
      I think my own fear is my biggest cage. Someone sent out a quote last year on twitter: “Run toward fear.” I’ve tried to keep that in the forefront of my mind. Maybe here it means break through fear. This is something I constantly need to work on.

  2. 3 Carmel G 03.13.2011 at 11:24 am

    Your image set me thinking about the inadequacies of some containers and the need for spreading beyond those. I used your image, with attribution, in a presentation to my school Council on Friday morning. I will not be uploading it to the web, but you may like to think of a CC license as I’m sure it will soon appear somewhere else on the web. It certainly works well as a powerful metaphor.
    Thank you for the inspiration.

    • 4 bethfriese 03.15.2011 at 2:07 pm

      Thank you for commenting, and for reminding me to license the photo. I should also edit the post to give credit to the artist. I appreciate it! I’m also glad you found it useful in your own work. It has been a couple of months since I was in San Diego and ran across the sculpture, but I keep returning to it as a way to push my own thinking about libraries and what we do.

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