Librarians as “First Responders”

After graduating in May of 2015 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison SLIS program, I was lucky enough to land my perfect job (Adult Programming and P.R. Librarian at Pine River Library) in my perfect place (SW Colorado: nestled between desert and mountains, home to some of the best hiking, biking, and skiing in the West, if you ask this Alaska and Montana girl!). Add to that, my own office in a library connected to a community garden, with yoga classes three times a week???! I knew right away that I had a high standard of excellent, innovative, engaging programming and services to live up to!

In my first year of librarianship, I’ve been was lucky enough to attend two conferences, one national (PLA) and one local (CAL). I know that it’s the main point of these professional convergences, but both times I have returned to my desk with a pages of useful notes, with a few cryptic jottings here and there (“Colorado Spider Survey”?!). The brainstorming I did in the margins of my notebook during CAL looks like it will generate enough ideas to bring me through the next year of adult programming at least!

When I first set out to write this blog, I was thinking that I would follow the traditional route, talking about the sessions I liked the most from the conference. But in the wake of last week’s election results, I’ll go big picture here instead. I now realize that one of the most affecting sessions I attended at CAL was Jamie LaRue’s Julie J. Boucher Memorial Lecture on Intellectual Freedom. I had always heard that he was a bit of a rockstar in the library world, but this lecture really proved that fact. His wit, grace, and well-honed appeal for the importance of Intellectual Freedom had everyone in the room inspired about our chosen profession.

With recent events, Jamie’s inspirational words are returning to me even louder than when he shared them a month ago. In light of the drastic change of rhetoric we are facing, the importance of libraries is even stronger. Just two days after the election, the Los Angeles Times featured a column entitled ”How to weather the Trump administration: Head to the library.” In this appeal for the equalizing power of libraries, David Kipen, former literature director of the National Endowment for the Arts writes:

“If all these experiences have taught me anything, it’s that librarians may be the only first responders holding the line between America and a raging national pandemic of absolutism. More desperately than ever, we need our libraries now, and all three of their traditional pillars: 1) education, 2) good reading and 3) the convivial refuge of a place apart. In other words, libraries may be the last coal we have left to blow on.”

Oh yeah baby! CAL Logo

Jamie LaRue warned us about the changing trends he sees in challenges to books: More challenges are coming at the high school level, and these challenges are often directed at books that are a part of school curriculum. By the time the next election comes around, these students will be a part of the voting public, part of a generation who could mobilize in the voting booths and shift our country back towards the more inclusive ideals (and beyond) that America has worked so hard in the past to reach. As Jamie reminds us, libraries must fight to retain open access to thoughts, materials, ideas, art, stories… all the things that will continue to “make America great” no matter the administration in power at the time.

I’ll end this blog with a quote from the great Kurt Vonnegut, which my library director shared in the days after the election. Let’s keep fighting the good fight!

“The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”