(Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of posts profiling the iSchool’s Library and Information Science faculty. Check out previous 7 Question posts with R. David Lankes, Renee F. Hill, Jill Hurst-Wahl, Jian Qin, and Marilyn Arnone)
Barbara Stripling, or Barb, emanates both kindness and innate leadership. Her care for each student is reflected in her empathetic engagement with each one of us on an individual level. She is an excellent model and mentor for leading with empathy and at the same time contributing immensely to both scholarship and direction in our field.
She teaches Advocacy for Academic, Public, and School Libraries (IST 600) and Literacy Through School Libraries (IST 668). I’ve also been lucky enough to have her for Information Policy (IST 618) this semester. Her vast experience at all levels of this profession infuses her students with desire to aspire to great professional levels but also at the same time provide actionable knowledge. I know, whether I’m picking through net neutrality policy or figuring out how to best advocate for my community, that it is directly applicable to my future as an information professional.
(Questions answered: What is your headline? What is your claim to fame, or in what area do you have bragging rights?)
KM: Which Social Media do you prefer (If no social media, why not?)
BS: Well I’m not a great social media user, most of my time online is email – which I’m totally overwhelmed by. I do like Facebook as it enables me to stay in touch with my friends, to find out what is happening, if someone is struggling with something, or if someone has a great achievement. I also think LinkedIn is really powerful for professional connections and whenever anyone asks to connect via LinkedIn, I always say yes.
KM: What is your favorite read to recommend?
BS: When I was thinking about this question, I wasn’t thinking about a particular book but more about my reading path and my reading profile. Offhand, I would say there are 3 main trends that I read all the time.
First of all, I read about a mystery a week… and that is for just pure pleasure. I don’t remember them after I’m through with them, I just read them, enjoy them, put them down and then re-read them because I forgot I read them in the first place.
The second theme has a long path. I read books on mountaineering. I read “Into Thin Air” a lot of years ago. I became fascinated with the whole idea of why somebody would climb a mountain – and that high, in those kinds of conditions, with the probability of death that high. Knowing that I would never do that myself – I’m clumsy, I don’t like cold! Yeah, not doing that. But I LOVE to read about it and do so quite a bit. So what that shows is the power of reading about something you will never do yourself. But I’m just fascinated by it so that is the way I’m experiencing it. That is as close as I ever want to get to Mt. Everest. I want to understand not only what it is like, but what it is that drives people to do that because it is so foreign to me.
The third trend, that has continued my entire life, is reading books on the Holocaust. That started when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school. My high school showed a documentary on liberation of the camps – they put out a warning that it was going to be disturbing and you came at your own discretion. I decided to go. I remember exactly where we were – I remember seeing that and… I had no idea. I had no idea of what had been going on. I was obviously very sheltered. But since then, I have consumed books on the Holocaust.
KM: What is your favorite local hangout?
BS: I majored in drama in undergraduate school, taught drama in middle and high school, and have always had a passion for the theater. I have season tickets to the theater here in Syracuse. I won’t say I hang out at the theater, but getting absorbed in a drama or musical unfolding before my eyes is my idea of a favorite thing to do.
KM: What was your aha moment, when you knew you wanted to dedicate your professional life to the information field?
BS: I started out as a teacher. When I went to college, my vision was that I wanted to change the world. At some point, I recognized that I wouldn’t be able to change the world and that I wanted to change individual lives. I went into teaching with that as my motivation. I realized after I was a drama, English and media teacher, that what I really wanted to do was empower students to learn on their own – so my focus was that I wanted to teach kids to think. I also realized I wanted to have a larger connection to the kids in the school than I could have in the classroom.
So I started thinking about a larger venue and I started thinking about what I would be teaching and realized that really the library is where you teach people to think and those are the skills you teach. I was never satisfied with teaching a body of content – even when I was in an English classroom – I always tried to get them to think with the content. But when I moved into the library, that was what I was supposed to do and it felt like coming home. I had worked for a film company, I had worked as a teacher – I brought everything that I had done.. together.. in the realm of the library. So my passion for my whole life and the information field has been to empower others to be independent learners. That is really what I’m about.
KM: What do you think makes the iSchool LIS program different from all the others?
BS: I would say one of the things is our culture of School of One and the real strength that that lends is that our students can take classes on anything. Data Science or whatever they want to push out on – we are very receptive and we enable people to pursue their own unique interests because we all work together as a faculty and build on each other. It was one reason that I asked Jeff Hemsley, for example, to speak on Data Visualization in 511 (Editors note: Intro to Library & Information Profession) last summer because, yeah, that’s not Library Science but, yeah, we need to learn about that! And our School of One makes that possible.
The other thing that I think we’re really starting to do better on is thinking about the future of libraries. We’re not so set in “this is what you need to learn because it is what you’ve always had to learn in library science” but instead pushing the envelope and thinking about what are the new trends in our field? What is the transformation of the profession? What will enable our students to be the leaders of tomorrow?
KM: What is the craziest (most positive) development you see actually happening in the LIS world?
BS: In the LIS world there are several things that I really like. The first thing that is really strong for me is the movement toward turning outward and being community based – for all types of libraries. I firmly believe we need to get over ourselves. We can have a hugely positive impact on society and on our communities if we pay attention to what they want, their aspirations and then fulfill those with our library programs. We have to get out of the library and outreach into the community – into areas where we wouldn’t normally serve – and not expect people to come to us.
I also think, the trend that I like in School Libraries is an increasing focus on inquiry, on critical thinking skills, and really, as I said this is my passion, trying to make sure that every student leaves with the capacity for both critical and creative thinking. That’s probably related to another piece in the whole library world that I really like and that is the empowerment. Teaching people and enabling people not just to consume information but to create it and to be creators of new ideas, of connecting to people in new ways. I think that needs to happen through every kind of library. We are just on the edges of it. I don’t believe in makerspaces just because you can go and do this – I believe in makerspaces because of what you can do with people’s thinking. So it is not only creativity but it is also collaboration that we can enable people to do. I know I don’t like to learn new things all by myself, so just even having a conversation with somebody else really moves my thinking along as well as gives me social comfort.
KM: What was your favorite part or moment of graduate school? (proudest, most fun, etc)
BS: Well I’ve been to four grad schools so… I probably I would pick my doctorate. I think my thesis was definitely my favorite part because I was in charge of picking a subject that I was passionate about – Inquiry and Empathy. And I got to go deep and I got to study it and I got to draw conclusions, present it, and communicate about it. That is so empowering. I loved that. I wish I had time to do that all the time. So wonderful.
One of the things that, I realize now, made it a nice, reflective process was that I kept research journals. They were simple books but then I’d go back, I’d underline, I’d tab it, I’d highlight and I’ve never kept a diary but this was a way to capture my thinking as I went along and that was very fulfilling. Reflection is fulfilling but reflecting about something you are passionate about is really fulfilling. And I could track my own learning.
KM: What gets your endorsement this week?
BS: Actually I’m most fascinated by the fight between Apple and law enforcement. I’m watching that because it is interesting on so many levels. I’ve been looking at myself – at what I really think about the balance between privacy and security. For me it is not all down on one side – which I would think it would be because I’m such an: “Intellectual Freedom!” “Privacy!” person, but it isn’t that black and white for me. When Apple came out publicly about its refusal to write new code to go around its own security, ALA immediately came out with a statement supporting Apple. I wasn’t ready to jump on the bandstand quite that quickly, because I was hearing conflicting information. On the one hand, I understood the request was very targeted to one particular murderer’s phone and Apple had made data available in a number of other situations. I also thought that Apple was using the issue to make a splash and sell their brand, not to stand up for the principles of privacy. On the other hand, it is absolutely crucial that we, as librarians, fight for every individual’s right to privacy and intellectual freedom. We do have to recognize, though, that security is important. In this instance, we seem to have security of individual data and the right to privacy conflicting with security in our communities (through law enforcement).
So I don’t know – it is a battle between privacy and security that is going to continue to play out and I just find it very interesting. People are having to say, “hmm I hadn’t thought about that…” And I particularly like that it is generating a conversation about privacy as well. Because that is a fundamental value and I think people take it for granted or don’t even think about it and all of a sudden they are having to say “I don’t really want the FBI in my phone.”
I like it. At so many levels. At some levels I go, ahhh it is just trying to make a buck for Apple but there are some levels that really are principle based. So that has been the most fascinating thing this week.