Standardization as a barrier: LCSH’ing Community

Alright, I will freely admit I just put LCSH in the title to phish librarians – so please no hard feelings from my cataloguing friends (please do watch the video at the end)  … but on a more serious note:

There are some things that most of us would agree – to standardize seems to make sense or be in our best interest, or, the public’s best interest.  For example, no doubt, a lot of us would agree that a standardized minimum wage can be a good thing.  And, of course, there are lots of safety standards that make a lot of sense.

However, I think we can get caught up in believing that to standardize provides the best public service where libraries are concerned.  Or, better put, I think we need to be careful in the application of standardization with community led library services – especially since the needs of various communities (both geographical communities and communities of interest – e.g. web 2.0 users, youth, immigrants, etc.) vary so greatly.  “Models” across the board, do not always address specific concerns of diverse communities.  For instance, “Pilots” do not always work the same in every different community, or, neighbourhood.  What makes sense at one point in time or place, may not at another.  Each community is different.

From a community led perspective, it may be important to create standardized processes, which provide a set of guidelines on how to implement community led techniques (e.g. asset mapping, community entry, etc.).  However, even these standardized guidelines, allow for a certain level of variability or adaptation, in order to allow for the flexibility need to work with communities.  There application should not be a standardized linear (predetermined) process.  If it is predetermined, it is not community led.

Even our own individual interpretations of policies, and, guidelines may differ – causing variations in a standard.  I think we need to be more comfortable working with flexibility – and support each other when we make decisions outside of the “standard.”   This is how and when innovative new practices/services/programs can be identified, created, and evaluated.

So, rather than be annoyed when another person makes a decision against the norm, we need to try and understand why the decision was made and how that might affect us in the future.  I think we get too caught up with equating standards with “fairness” and equality.

I think we need to put that idea aside, and start applying equity.  Standardized guidelines are great to have in place for the times when you need them but I do think we need to be flexible in their application.

** For some chuckles – clink on this link to applying cataloguing standards onto community

Special thanks to others for input on this blog posting~!




Filed under community development, public libraries

2 responses to “Standardization as a barrier: LCSH’ing Community

  1. Matt Cole

    Hey Ken,

    I’m in agreement here about the levels that standardization should be implemented into social programs. I keep thinking of a rather simplistic parallel that happens in my house all the time. There are four people and one small kitchen in which our cooking schedules often overlap.
    Some people feel that everything has a name for a reason and that when you are asking them to pass the “scrappy thingy” rather than asking them to pass the “spatula” you are not acting in standard kitchen etiquette.
    However, and this is the part that I find correlates, regardless of our individual preferences for the specifics of standardization at the end of the day the most important thing, probably the only important thing is that it is ingrained in us, standardized if you will, to ASK for the desired object. We have an established framework within which each of us can make ourselves understood in our own manners.
    I think standardized, yet flexible guidelines are essential for progress. With the hectic nature of life it is always comforting to have a set of preferred practices to use as a springboard for action. Every diver needs a diving board. However once we’re up on the air we should be able to twist and turn as best we can to meet the expectations of a given situation.
    Life is interdisciplinary standardization and serendipity need too coexist.

    PS – Great video!

    PPS- What do you think of this blog:

    I agree with his forward thinking points on the inclusion of people unable to access the physical library and its physical resources. However, I’m a little ruffled by his hard line against buildings (especially apparent in his “Three B’s of Librarianship” post). Given all the to-do about our impending Central library I feel that one of the most important pieces of information we as librarians can give our patrons is this: You matter and you have a place in society. If we don’t have a library building, how can we ensure that there is that place for them? I know there are pros and cons to the issue, but for the sake of brevity I’ll leave it at that.

    Hope all is well.

  2. willimen


    Thanks for posting this link.. that was a very interesting posting. My personal opinions about the role of librarians (and other library staff) is that we are information brokers. Information is not limited to just books but can also include other mediums and formats such as conversations between individuals or in larger groups, DVD’s, music etc. Library staff can help act as facilitators to finding and helping people within our communities (both within libraries as physical spaces and in communities where people do not feel comfortable entering library spaces) find and access relevent information which meets their self identified information needs. [

    Image the possibilities for our profession…

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