"We're in New Historical Territory"
Barbara Kingsolver, author of Chicago Public Library's 2016 One Book One Chicago selection, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (among other works), recently published a piece in The Guardian that effectively articulated the way I have felt over the past few weeks. Discussing the political environment in which the United States now finds itself, Kingsolver suggests that "everything counts" if we are to be true to values such as intellectual freedom, equity and diversity, and open scientific inquiry. "With due respect for the colored ribbons we’ve worn for various solidarities," she writes, "our next step is to wear something on our sleeve that takes actual courage: our hearts." I agree.
Kingsolver goes on to articulate specific actions that professionals such as writers, film-makers, journalists, publishers, teachers, and scientists might take in this new environment. Journalists, for example, should "push back against every door that closes on freedom of information," and teachers should "explicitly help children of all kinds feel safe in [their] classrooms." One group of information professionals Kingsolver does not task, oddly enough, are librarians, even though we can (or should) stand at the of the discovery, evaluation, and dissemination of information, and at the intersection of the worlds of scholarly inquiry, information science, and teaching and learning. It is our responsibility to fill that gap and begin to articulate the specific roles that librarians and library staff, supported by the "oldest and largest library association in the world."
I'll give it a start, but articulating these roles and providing support for library workers and their allies in local communities who will play these roles on the ground is something we need to do together, and it's something I'm looking forward to talking about with you when we're talking about what we want, need, and expect from #OurALA now that we find ourselves in "new historical territory."
If we're librarians, we do everything we can to protect the core values of intellectual freedom and equity of access to information. We build libraries and library service programs that are centers for literacy education, hubs for local communities, and places where individuals in those communities are empowered. We make sure that our libraries are not simply safe spaces, but we actively collaborate with community partners to, as Sarah Houghton put it, stand up for the rights of the people in our diverse communities. We stand up for people, not just for principles, and not just for policies, but for people. We build communities of like-minded people who will join us in the work of safeguarding freedoms, supporting critical thinking across the spheres of information, media, and data literacy, and empowering marginalized communities to maintain their access to the democratic society that we still cherish.
What else do we do?