The 2016 presidential primary activity and election may provide libraries with an unmatched opportunity to show their stuff. As candidates officially jump into the race, voters are already inundated by an unprecedented volume of information and perspectives—not to mention the onslaught of misinformation and distractions. As the pace heats up, potential voters will need help engaging in the process, and voters will need more help than ever sorting out the facts on the real issues and learning what they need to make their own decisions.
We talk a lot about resilience when we discuss library sustainability. It is one of the trends identified by Miguel Figueroa, an LJ 2005 Mover & Shaker, in the recent “Forecasting the Future of Libraries” report. It encompasses a broad swath of library work—dynamic programming, deep and robust community commitment to the well-being of the institution, and facility design that can withstand the very real threats of extreme weather change that comes with global warming. Resilience also means creating buildings that don’t drain precious natural resources.
I knew I had met a creative force when I called Gale Bacon to let her know that the Belgrade Community Library, MT, had been named LJ’s 2015 Best Small Library in America, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She was enthusiastic but cool-headed on the phone, immediately cooking away on ideas for how to leverage the award. After meeting her at a celebration at the library in February, I am in awe of this director’s savvy and dedication to expanding support for her library. She took what anyone would consider a success story for Belgrade and turned it into a success story for the whole state—while keeping the people of Belgrade front and center.
There was much excitement when the James L. Knight Foundation opened a News Challenge for Libraries last September—for good reason. Libraries were getting a highly visible shout-out from this national foundation, and library enthusiasts were being asked to share ideas in a setting that encouraged collaboration to deepen the impact of library work. The process surfaced mission-focused ingenuity across the library landscape, highlighted the smarts in our field, and should serve as motivation for leadership to find new ways to enable latent capacity in our libraries to serve our communities better.
Librarians and libraries are essential to discourse about intellectual freedoms. Now we have more work to do in light of violent efforts to curtail such rights, perhaps most notably the January 7 attack on the offices of Paris’s weekly Charlie Hebdo. For me, these events brought our work to date into high relief but also intensified a sense of urgency about what librarians can do to defend a richer understanding of the value of freedom of inquiry and expression.
“When a library goes out for a vote, the librarians shift from being partners in education, skills building, personal enrichment, and community identity. We turn into the Tax Man,” write political action committee EveryLibrary’s John Chrastka and Rachel Korman in their take on 2014 referenda. This predicament is true for all libraries, but it is especially pointed for libraries that struggle at the polls.
New York City’s libraries get a fair amount of attention, but all too rarely is it directed to the branches. Those neighborhood hubs arguably have the greatest impact and potential, cultivating the essential connection to the community at the most local levels in more than 207 buildings. Unfortunately, according to the Center for an Urban Future, they are also at risk. The time has arrived to embrace a new citywide strategy to deliver excellent library services to all New Yorkers.
We need to reexamine how we talk about privacy. It’s hard to go a day right now without seeing a major article addressing privacy concerns—be it about personal financial data; the ability to track student progress and report it to parents, teachers, or advisors; new Facebook settings; the stalled USA Freedom Act; and so on. The alarm has been sounded, but the prevailing lack of response is still unnerving.
Not long after Republican Kim Wyman was elected secretary of state of Washington in 2012, she had a meeting with a legislator that set her on a new course. As they began to explore the possibility of rebooting an envisioned but later abandoned Heritage Center project, she was asked, “Are libraries necessary?” It’s a great question. Her response should be a prod to all of us to get out there and make sure our elected officials have the insight into libraries they need to help build and sustain strong funding.