Library Farm

I’m going to try something new today. I’m going to leave off with the blithering idiot thing and try not to use a single exclamation point or all-caps word. I shall not ramble or rave. I shall attempt, today, to write like an adult, because I want to tell you about the Library Farm. More to the point, I want to tell you about Meg Backus, librarian and agriculturalist and deep thinker extraordinaire. But let me start at the beginning:

I met Meg when the idea of applying to the LIS program was a mere twinkle in my eye, way back in, like, November or December of 2008. Something like that. Anyway, it was cold. Our dogs were playing with a whole bunch of other dogs at Barry Park, and mine was being snotty as usual because she’s part chow and chows are like that……..but I digress. Meg was a second-year at SU, and I was struck by a) her enthusiasm for the program (a good sign, I said to myself) and b) her ideas about what a library could be (which gave me both and “aha moment” and an “uh-oh” moment at the same time. “Aha! This program is going to open my mind to new and fascinating ideas!” and “Uh-oh, I’m in for more than I bargained for, and what if I’m not creative enough? What if I’m not a game-changer? Will I be thrown out of library school for being a schlub? AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!)

Ugh. Rambling and shouting and exclamation points.

Back to Meg: she talked about what information is, and what it means to society vs. what society thinks it means. She asked a lot of questions, like: Why couldn’t a library lend out power tools and sewing machines? Why couldn’t a farm also be a library? Why can’t we let go of this idea that a library is only about written documents? What is a document, anyway? I said, “Hmmmm…….I don’t know,” but I was actually thinking, “Hmmmmm…….library school is going to make my head explode.”

We have all been asked the question in classes: what is information? And the answer is usually along the lines of “It’s raw data that has been made useful.”  We don’t usually answer: “It’s a vegetable.” But why shouldn’t we? Meg writes about it this way:

This library service [the farm] would aim to educate, collecting a usable set of materials where roots and vegetables are considered kinds of public documents. It considers the processes involved in growing food along with the food itself to be information.  It assumes Michael Buckland’s conception of the thingness of information, and catalogs the actual stuff that aims to convey knowledge or understanding. The documents in this library farm would partially sustain members of the community, physically, socially, and economically.

So just to be clear, there are libraries with community gardens. But the idea of a librarian who sees the garden not as a separate entity and discipline that just happens to be on the grounds of a library, but as a form of information literacy…….who sees a vegetable as exactly the same thing as a book…….that just blew my mind. It’s “agricultural literacy,” baby—and what’s more: SHE’S FARMING A LIBRARY RIGHT NOW, AND YOU CAN ACTUALLY GO SEE IT IN PERSON.

Yeah, I used all caps. So sue me.

Anyway, Meg works at NOPL (Northern Onondaga Public Library), and she is doing exactly what people in the library field know is vitally needed right now: she’s keeping libraries relevant. She is, in her own words again,

reclaiming for libraries a role in public life as institutions for learning and participation (and equal access to that learning and participation), rather than as warehouses for books.

I’m a huge fan, can you tell? But you should take a trip to the Cicero library branch and see the farm for yourself, preferably before it freezes over, which will be soon because we’re in Syracuse, y’all. And sit down and have a chat with Meg—I guarantee you’ll walk away inspired. Plus, you’ll be convinced once and for all that librarians are not only smart, helpful, extremely useful people, but that they also HAVE THE POWER TO SAVE THE WORLD!


  • Sue Badman

    Ms Bawden,
    Great, inspiration writing you have put out there. I so needed this. I am recent grad from the MLIS school and am looking for a job. I was going to reread books from class to define what a librarian is but this piece liberates me again and reminds me of what I already know, there are no more walls.
    Thank you,
    Sue Badman

  • Shander

    Hi, Sue–

    I just saw your reply….only ten days late! I’m glad you liked the post, and I wish you the best of luck on your job search. I know it ain’t easy out there–keep the faith–Library Power!

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  • Katy

    Hey, there’s a company in the Boston area that lends out chickens! A very cool library concept; I would totally go to a Library Farm. Especially, as you know, if I could take out a donkey for two weeks. I would probably pay serious late fees.

    I love that I can now post on this site, btw!

  • Even when the LibraryFarm freezes over we can still winter garden! I’ve built a couple cold frames:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_frame

    We will be able to harvest spinach and lettuce in the middle of January!

  • Shander

    Donkeys! That’s even better than sheep! Except you can’t knit donkey fur. Oh! Oh! The library farm should TOTALLY sheer the sheep after Straight A’s herds them. And then the donkeys will have sweaters for those bitter Syracuse winters!

    Wait…did you say the company in Boston lends chickens? THAT’S AWESOME! Tom: next project? Cold frames for chickens? (I guess that would just be a heated chicken coop.)

  • bagleyc

    Hello!
    I thought you might like to know I just added two Janome sewing machines to our library collection. Our students are ‘green’ and community service oriented and there is a need for these tools on campus. SU MLS 1975-Christine Bagley, Curriculum Resources Librarian, Salve Regina University. bagleyc@salve.edu

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