Ron Knowling is the Manager of Public Library Services for the Government of Nunavut based in Baker Lake, Nunavut. Ron was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland and has a B.A. and M.A. in Medical History from Memorial University and an M.L.I.S. from McGill. In addition to this, he enjoys cooking and walking his dog “Friday.”
Describe yourself in three words.
High functioning sociopath – I have no pretense to a Holmesian intellect (my memory palace is more of a shed) but I have a tendency when people are going in one direction to go in the other. My parents used to describe me as “bolshie.” Opposition and debate are the best ways to find the “right/best” path to a solution however too often we take the easiest path.
What was your first position in the library or information field?
Lending Services Librarian at the St. John’s Public Library. It was here I discovered the incredible impact one person could have on a library service with proactive public promotions and community relations. My supervisor loathed me but the results spoke for themselves.
How do you stay up to date in your field?
In the sense that it is meant here I’m not sure I do. However, I find observing technology trends and thinking about library services and comparing them to other community services can be helpful. With the digital revolution libraries are still in the process of redeveloping themselves as information hub, community spaces, and community resource nexus. Added onto this has to be the truism that every community library is different just as every community is different, we might remember Ariel’s words to Ferdinand at the start of Shakespeare’s The Tempest…
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
What is your favourite part of library, archive, or information services work?
Everyone has needs. We need food, shelter, we need warmth and clean clothes and safety but we also need “joy” and “laughter” and “beauty.” Too often it seems we forget about the latter needs which are to my mind as important as the former. Working with our staff we have been able to provide sewing machines, video games, graphic novels and a variety of DVDs. Knowing that something we worked on as a team made a difference in people’s lives is very rewarding. This Christmas, library services in Iqaluit gave out spaghetti and bottled pasta sauce to patrons in case they might be food insecure over the holidays. Libraries are changing into something “rich and strange.”
What are you reading or watching right now?
Critical Role – Campaign 2, a web-series which is broadcast on Twitch and Alpha featuring eight Los Angeles voice actors (C list) playing Dungeons and Dragons. Probably the most original pieces of entertainment available.
If you didn’t work in information services, what do you think you’d be doing?
Probably some type of community development work. Perhaps community radio or social work with a community outreach element to it. Healing people is incredibly important in our communities and much of that can be accomplished by people talking and listening to each other. This in its essence is a model for civil society and incredibly important for the creation of sustainable communities and democracy.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
“You’ll never amount to anything.” Thanks Dad!
What is the coolest thing in your office or on your desk?
My Lamy Vista fountain pen. It is beautiful and a pleasure to write with. It makes me want to write about funny, smart, sarcastic people in challenging situations. Think of The Lion in Winter meets Michael Frayne’s Copenhagan.
What aspect of library work are you most passionate about?
Public programming and community relations. Every community is different and once you get below the surface each community is filled with amazing and varied people who have incredible skill-sets. Programming and community relations are the best way to learn about those unique capacities and bring them to the service of the community.
Why do you think library work is important?
Public libraries are part of the bourgeois consensus which emerged in the mid-nineteenth century that capitalist society could not survive without broadly based participation and access to information. At its core this was an attempt to co-opt the emerging industrial working class and to a large extent it succeeded but in the process it created a powerful tool for building democracy and civil society. Whether it was intentional or not public libraries are a great force for building democracy and personal and community development.