There are no words for how all of us in the public library world are feeling these days. We are the people who went into this line of work to help people. To serve everyone and anyone at the institution which is the great equalizer in America; where everyone is welcome to seek out information, entertainment, Internet access, whatever. The place where I said weekly, for 15 years to those who came in, "we don't need to check your citizenship status to give you a library card, all I need is your lease or 1 bill, or just your kid's school registration. I want to help you because you have a question or you want access to something we have. I don't care why or who you are."
Everything I did, every single day, was geared toward helping people get what they needed or wanted, without judgment. And like all of you, I loved it. It was the greatest paid work I have ever done.
When I got my first public library job in 2000, it was to help be a part of starting an entire Readers' Advisory Department from scratch. I was excited, but also worried to leave my love of reference behind. Could I really make a difference in people's lives if all I did was hand out leisure reading? When the job was offered to me, it came with an offer to also work a supervisory night shift in reference once a week [different floor] and on top of being in charge of half of the fiction collection, I got biographies too.
I was over the moon. I could follow my RA passion to see where it took me, but, as I thought of it then, I could still have a job where I helped people, where I made a difference in their lives, because surely I would not get that from RA.
How wrong I was. Not about being able to help people in the adult reference department. No, I was wrong about how important and life changing RA Service is.
One of the reasons I left the public service part of my job behind and moved into full time training library workers all over the country is because I saw how wrong I was and knew I needed to get out there and share the importance of RA Service, an importance we all see when it comes to putting books in the hands of children, but one we somehow forget about when we work with adults.
I spend much of my time talking with library directors and training managers who have called me to do "a little training" because their RA person is nagging them to being me in, trying to convince them as to why training every member of their staff-- from top to bottom-- in providing RA Service is not only important, but essential to their work as public libraries. I am happy to say, when I was able to convince people and they saw my training sessions, they admitted how wrong they were too.
RA Service for all ages, but especially adults, especially voting age, decision makes, is essential in a democracy. Yes I am saying reading fiction and leisure nonfiction is one of the most important things adults can do to try to understand the world. Many of you are nodding along because if you read between the lines of this blog, it is clear that this is how I feel, but I felt like today, for today's Call to Action needed to come out and say it bluntly.
We need to understand that the work we are doing, suggesting books to readers, be it actively or passively, in person, in library buildings, online, whatever-- this is a form of activism. This is how we stand up to bullies, racists, misogynists, any kind of hate. We put stories in people's hands. We put the books these adults are reading "for fun" into their hands so as to help them see a different view.
I believe this while heartedly. I have for years. I am not exaggerating it for effect. The problem is, with all of our tangible problems, I have been struggling with how to explain that RA can be activism in a way that I can be heard; in a way that will be taken seriously.
People still disparage our work-- even to my face. For the past few months, I have been trying out these arguments with people I know and trust-- some of who all but laughed in my face as I suggested it. [These people are just like I was in 2000-2001 as I described above.] To be fair, some of my colleagues do agree with me and together we are working on creating a presentation to explain it better than I am fumbling to do so today.
Recently, I came across this tweet, a quote from an ALA Midwinter presentation, that felt like the closest to what I have been struggling to get across over the last few months. I have saved it, wanting to write a post about it.
|Click here for original Tweet|
This is long, I know. It is more rambling that I normally strive to be in these Call to Action posts. I try to rise above the fray and the emotions and give you all clear and direct marching orders. But I can't today. But, I can also no longer wait for my thoughts and words to become clearer. Because today, I need to just remind you all that the work you do putting books in people's hands, especially when you match them with a book that will deliver the type of storytelling they want, but one that may introduce them to a whole new way of thinking....when you do that, you help all of America.
Every single person out there, no matter how enlightened they think they are can do with reading a book from a different view point than their own. Hey even the most liberal among us, it doesn't hurt you to read a "conservative" book. The point is not to get to agreement with the author, but rather to see another side to the world you live in.
[On a side note, I was once publicly chided by a big name SF author because I mentioned his work was like Dan Simmons. Because this author does not agree with Simmons' politics (see this review of Flashback where I discuss those politics a bit), he could not allow me to connect their storytelling styles. This is horrible, and I am on this author's political side. We can't be these people.]
I have more examples of why I believe in the importance of reading widely and diversely here and here [other places too, but those are a good start], but that is not the point of the call today. I have called you to action on this topic before. Today I am asking you to believe in yourselves and the vital work you do. Don't belittle yourself, as others do to us. RA Service is extremely important. Heck, it might be the only way because when we hand people fiction, they often aren't expecting it to change their lives. But we all know, it can and it will.
Art challenges us. It shakes us out of our everyday and shows us the world in a new light. It opens our eyes to other ways of looking at the world. We don't have to agree with them, but the more ways to look at the world, to think of the world that every single person experiences, the better off we will all be. It is why I not only read, but have subscriptions to the theater and Opera, it is why I hold a membership to just about every Chicago museum. Art, especially art which entertains us, can be more easily applied to our real world than any other art. Why? Because it is the most accessible way to shake us up and force us to "rethink the world."
So get out there and remember, what you are doing is activism. Don't let anyone else tell you different. Please take it seriously because unfortunately, our way of life may depend on it.
For past Call to Action Posts, click here
For past Call to Action Posts, click here