With the US midterm elections behind us, I have a question for all you library leaders: How do you handle politics in your position, at its most personal level?
As the library director, I find myself involved in local politics, whether I want to or not, and have to work really hard to remain neutral and stay out of the fray.
For example, my library board is elected at-large and the election is non-partisan–they do not have to declare a political affiliation to run. Many of my trustees, however, happen to belong to a political party, and it is not uncommon for me to find my library email and library address on mailing lists for fundraisers, meet-and-greets, and even outright asks for campaign donations. My stance has been “all or none;” I donate to all, or I donate to none (as of this writing, I donate to none). I also try to unsubscribe from mass emails if there is an easy unsubscribe–in some of the smaller races, the mass email may come from the candidate’s address book directly rather than through an email blast system, so in those cases I’m a coward and use my delete button.
The nature of my job and the fact that this is my hometown means I am connected on social media to community leaders from all political persuasions. I saw some of them engaging in…let’s call them “spirited”…political debates with each other which occasionally flared up in comments, with one of them calling another out for dirty politics, attack ads, and the like. My approach here is also cowardly, as I deliberately scroll past anything that looks political to maintain plausible deniability about interpersonal strife. I need every elected official on the library’s side, so I don’t take sides on social media if at all possible.
I have a lot of longtime personal friends, family friends, and acquaintances involved in local politics. When asked for my vote, I try to respond in a general way by wishing them luck, acknowledging the long slog to election day, and asking how they keep warm while going door-to-door. The last thing I need is to have a candidate tell people that the library director is voting for them–it sounds like an endorsement, and I want to avoid that. My personal politics are my own; I generally don’t discuss which candidates I’m voting for, which way I’m voting on a ballot question, or whether I am registered with a particular party. There are exceptions, sure–I always tell people to vote yes for libraries, for example. But generally, I tend to hold my beliefs close to my chest. I have to say it’s interesting to me, and a little fun to see, when people pigeonhole me as a flaming liberal or as a conservative nut.
I want to make sure that the library’s commitment to serving all is not politicized. I try to focus on what’s best for the library, which seems to be working so far. So, colleagues, do you also struggle with these situations, or is it just me? What advice or tips would you share?