The Instruction and Outreach Department manages and coordinates library research instruction for students, faculty and staff through course-related workshops, outreach activities, personal consultations, research guides and other instructional materials.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Librarians as consequential strangers

The Pew Internet and American Life Project’s director, Lee Rainie, recently gave a presentation, “How libraries can survive in the new media ecosystem.”  There is a lot of interesting information about the growth of the media ecosystem (which is in itself a contested term).  Rainie here uses it to describe the devices (like televisions and computer) in use in a home or office. 

What grabbed my attention is an observation by Rainie that librarians could be thought of as “consequential strangers” in a social network.  So, what’s a consequential stranger?  Turns out the term was coined by researcher Karen Fingerman and publicized in a book by journalist Melinda Blau, “Consequential Strangers: the power of people who don’t seem to matter…but really do.” (italics in the original).

 Blau says that we “walk through life interacting with people who skirt the edges of our social circles without realizing that they’re as important as our intimates.  They punctuate our days, but we take them for granted: our coffee person and car mechanic, our coworkers and fellow volunteers, a golf buddy, a teacher, and most of our Facebook ‘friends’.”

Lee Rainie takes that concept and extends it to librarians.  We’re the consequential strangers who are there when you need us to help you find information.  And perhaps libraries are what Blau calls ‘being spaces,’ where “a welcoming climate enables strangers to become consequential strangers. Being space is a win-win: consumers feel safe and known, and they broaden their own convoys.”

And, yes I think we matter…we really do.


  1. Librarians are key consequential strangers in my book (literally and figuratively)! Right now, for example, I find myself in new life circumstances, requiring me to travel to Paris three times a year for month or two. I know almost no one; I barely speak French. Imagine my delight in discovering the American Library here. Most consequential strangers expose us to new information and fresh ideas, but that's literally a librarian's job! Thanks for spreading the word.
    --Melinda Blau
    author, "Consequential Strangers

  2. Melinda, thanks for your feedback!