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.