Smile Because It Happened: An Ethnographic Project Looking at Institutional Culture Change and Transforming Communities (And Why Librarians Should Pay Attention)

As many of you have followed my work for some time know, I have been and continue to be a fan of the work of Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist, and his students.  This year’s cohort of Digital Ethnography students created a moving and powerful documentary, “Smile Because It Happened”,  of their exploration of community at the Meadowlark Hills retirement community.  You can read more of the backstory of the project in this blog post, but after watching the video this morning, I could not help but think about what libraries (academic, public, school) might glean from this work:

  • Ethnography as a powerful research methodology for libraries (an ongoing interest for me rooted in my Language and Literacy studies from my days at The University of Georgia)
  • The value and power of intergenerational learning
  • Narrative and real world stories from our community members and what we can learn we when really listen.
  • Deep and meaningful engagement with community—this work clearly goes beyond surface levels surveys and town hall meetings
  • Real conversations for learning and understanding
  • Thinking about what we as libraries and librarians have to learn from our communities, not just what we have to teach them
  • What are catalysts for institutional change that can be transformative and help communities thrive?  How do communities transform libraries?  What if libraries embedded themselves in the heart of a community in the way these students did, and what powerful insights might we learn from that as an ongoing experience?

These initial reactions resonate with the tremendous and intense amount of observing, thinking, reflecting, and questioning I’ve engaged in the last seven months.   While I’ve been fairly reticent on the blog this year, I’ll be saying more about that process and experience in the next few weeks and how that is informing my current conceptualizations of libraries, learning, and life, but for now, I’d encourage you to take time to watch the documentary and consider your own responses.  Given the tremendous amount of interest and initiatives in libraries and communities in librarianship right now, I think work like this of Wesch and his students provide us an alternate lens for thinking about the possibilities of this work.

2 thoughts on “Smile Because It Happened: An Ethnographic Project Looking at Institutional Culture Change and Transforming Communities (And Why Librarians Should Pay Attention)

  1. Buffy..you continue to amaze me. Your verbal intelligence scares me sometimes! Your emotional intelligence and how it relates to our field of librarianship is astounding. I can’t stop crying watching the Meadowlark video..and am trying to figure out how I can take that emotion and apply it to building relationships in my new high school. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you..for all that you do to inspire.

  2. Buffy!
    Thank you for bringing this topic to light! How do you think librarians can take ethnography into collection development, beyond using Census data and general awareness? Are there resources that you would recommend so that libraries can truly reflect their community?

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