All Politics Is Personal

Eva —  November 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

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?

Eva

Posts

Eva Davis is the Director of the Canton Public Library in Canton, Michigan--not Canton, Ohio, or Canton, Massachusetts, or Canton, Mississippi. (It is an easy mistake to make.) Eva honed her supervisory and management skills working in customer service, research, and publishing before heading to graduate school at the University of Michigan School of Information. She became a librarian in 1998. She was an intern and then the teen services librarian at the Plymouth (MI) District Library before moving to the Ann Arbor (MI) District Library, where she was Head of the Youth Department at the Downtown library, Head of Youth Services for the system, Head of Branch Services, and finally Associate Director for Public Services. Eva has held her dream job as the Director of the award-winning Canton Public Library since 2008. She received the Michigan Library Association's Frances H. Pletz Award for Excellence in Teen Services in 2003, and is a graduate of both Leadership Ann Arbor and Leadership Canton, where she learned that she is moderately Affiliative according to MAFF, her color is "Green" on the Four Color Personality Test, and her Myers-Briggs Type is INTJ (although she has worked diligently and consistently on improving her Sensing, so she now leans ISTJ). Follow @CantonLibrary and @EvaDavisCPL on Twitter. (Photo credit: Susan Kennedy)

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