Librarians Hit the Street


By: Thomas Mantel

First-year Masters of Information student Brandon Weigel has all the answers.

First-year Masters of Information student Brandon Weigel has all the answers.

Alex Nursall

On October 25, an unusual breed of buskers could be found doling out their special brand of stimulation for public consumption. It was not music they were offering, but information.

Just ouside of the ROM at the corner of Bloor and Avenue, five Masters of Informations students from the Faculty of Information set up shop to peddle their intellectual wares; for a small donation, passersby could ask the students any question they could think up.

The first-year students, Katya Pereyaslavska, Stephen Spong, Cybil Stephens, Sarah Jones, and Brandon Weigel, were participating in the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Dare to Remember Challenge to raise money for anti-AIDS campaigns in Africa. The dare must be something that would both take participants out of their comfort zone and engage the public, while raising funds for AIDS awareness programs.

The students became involved in the challenge when one of their professors, Nadia Caidi, came across an advert while reading on the subway. “I was compiling my syllabus at the time,” said Caidi, “and I said, You know what? This is perfect for getting our students to do something outside of the library and that is also an outreach to the community…something that sheds a different light on librarianship that says, Look, we are engaged with social justice issues and with the community and are doing something that people don’t always associate with libraries.”

The students raised $776.86 in donations, far exceeding their expectations. Caidi even received a call from the Stephen Lewis Foundation congratulating her students on their stellar performance.

The students received a total of 63 queries, ranging from “Are there any English-language theatres in Shanghai?” to “Where does the name Saskatchewan come from?”

One of the academic goals of Professor Caidi’s assignment was to enliven the public perception of librarians as a whole.

“The public perception of the librarian as this old or middle aged white woman with a cat and a bun,” said Caidi, “I think has to be debunked because now it’s about having people who are very proactive, very vocal…we have a lot of young people, a lot of young men who are in the profession and who are really passionate about what they do.”

Just such a young man, Brandon Weigel, echoed Caidi’s sentiments. “This is a project to raise the public image of librarians,” he said. “Most people don’t really know what librarians do. Our job is to connect people to information.”

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