Archives For Serving Community

photo of a book with pages tucked to create a heart shape

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We’ve recently been interviewing candidates at my library. One of the most important questions that we ask is, “What do you love?”

Ok, that’s not exactly how we phrase it, but that’s what we want. What do you love?

One of the things that makes my library the vibrant and extraordinary place that it is, is that, as much as we are a community of staff members coming together for a common goal, we’re a community of individuals, and that individuality is important to us.

photo of Harry Potter themed yarn bombing display table

Two loves come together: Harry Potter and yarnbombing!

Today, I designed a display for our Harry Potter themed yarn bombing. #craftinglove

Next month, my boss will do a book club about a WWI book that I cannot imagine reading. #historybuff

In May, my Head of Adult will bring in an author who wrote about his life in the punk scene. #alternativeeducation

We are all different. And it’s those differences that allow our library to be an ever evolving organization. We can meet the needs of the many history aficionados in our service area, but we can also reach the crafters and the musicians.

It is not only in our unity that we are strong, but also in our diversity.

A core value of librarianship is that we have the ability and the responsibility to change society for the better. As the American Library Association puts it, librarians are responsible for “ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society.”

When we are faced with a critical problem like the heartbreaking pattern of unarmed young black men dying in altercations with law enforcement, what can librarians do to ameliorate this hurt?

In crisis situations, librarians can create an intentional community refuge. The Ferguson Public Library responded to community chaos in the wake of Michael Brown’s death by creating a safe space for all community members.

In addition to crisis situations, chronic inequality has an insidious effect on communities. Libraries can respond to chronic inequality as while as crisis situations. We can do this by sharing information, but more importantly, by actively speaking up for social justice.

Nicole Pagowsky and Niamh Wallace, librarians from the University of Arizona, shared a powerful message about librarians and social justice in this month’s College and Research Library News. Hundreds of miles away from Ferguson, these two librarians responded in their own library by creating a Ferguson resource LibGuide, which serves as a guide to information resources about Michael Brown’s death.

They express their belief that librarians have a responsibility to act in support of social justice:

“Positioning the library as anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-oppression helps us stay at the heart of the community, particularly in challenging times.”

Pagowsky and Wallace also remind us of Desmond Tutu’s words:

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Leadership and librarianship both carry responsibilities for challenging injustice. I often feel unsure about how to address social injustice in my own spheres, both personally and professionally. Pagowsky and Wallace’s article reminded me that it can be as simple as trading neutrality for support, to endorse the message that black lives matter.

Check out the full article in C&RL News, the University of Arizona Ferguson LibGuide and other #BlackLivesMatter guides from Oakland Public Library, San Francisco Public Schools.

photo credit: IMG_0259 via photopin (license)

photo credit: IMG_0259 via photopin (license)

Art Linkletter is famous for sharing the funny, and often embarrassing, things that kids will say. As librarians working with the public, we also hear the darndest things. We don’t have a national television show, but with social media we have plenty of outlets we can use to share these gems. As this Booklist Reader post, No Shaming by Erin Downey Howerton, wisely points out, it is important to share these stories with sensitivity. She discusses the need for securing anonymity and using humor in careful ways. Her post would make a great starting point for a staff discussion about how they use the library or personal accounts to share humorous interactions with patrons. It’s also essential to keep your reaction in check when you are with the patron. A couple of years ago a sixth grader asked me for help finding a fictional story about the Holocaust. I was showing her how to find book summaries in our library catalog when after reading through a dozen of them together she turned to me and asked, “Don’t you have any happy Holocaust stories?” That is not the time to make a young patron feel bad about asking for help. She wanted a survivor story, a resistance worker story, a story with hope. Sensitivity training…just another of the skills that library school should include.

In addition to writing award-winning paradigm-shifting fiction, co-founding an independent e-book publishing cooperative, and receiving the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, radical sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin is actively supporting library access to ebooks. The distinguished author spoke to American Libraries about her support for supplying ebooks at fair prices to library communities. She talks about the need to change public perception about the library’s capacity to provide ebooks:

Your average library patron is so used to the extraordinary generosity of a library; we all take it for granted. They give us books for nothing!

This perspective just warms a librarian’s heart. It’s so wonderful to hear an a voice advocating for libraries from outside the profession, and this one is a feisty voice. Le Guin says:

I have to admit, maybe I kind of enjoy a bit of a small fight.

Doesn’t that put the library pep back in you? Check out the interview with Le Guin on page 24 of the November/December issue of American Libraries. If you never read any Le Guin, the A.V. Club offers a guide on where to start (The Dispossessedobviously!).

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?