February 17, 2018

Arming the Ramparts | Sustainability

untitledThe sustainability of our world depends on a strong social fabric in local communities where people know and respect one another. This social fabric is key for resilient communities in the face of environmental, economic, and social disruption. That fabric is now torn in many places thanks to the vitriol and viciousness of the presidential election and fears about what will happen next.

My news feeds are littered with words such as post-truth, propaganda, fake news, and tweetplomacy. Many of my colleagues are expressing anger, fear, and confusion about what is happening in our world. Articles abound about information and media literacy, hacking, the “whitewashing” of government info, and the role librarians will play.

I don’t know what is coming next and neither do you. But in truth, we’ve never known what was coming next.

There is no doubt that vigilance is called for in our profession in the coming years. We must seek justice for all through our work in an honest, open way that celebrates our professional values: intellectual freedom, democracy, access, diversity, and the public good.

In my world, sustainability is at its heart about justice—environmental, economic, and social justice. This is the focal point of this column: creating sustainable libraries through a focus on library work that contributes to sustainable communities. Our work strengthens a community so it can find answers to the environmental, economic, and social calamities we are faced with and build more resilience for the future together.

While it may feel like the world has shifted under our feet and that the tremors of discontent on all sides are causing larger and larger rifts, the truth is that the world is always shifting. Disruption is constant. However, my guess is that we, as a profession, may be particularly disturbed by recent disruptions that seem to be overwhelming in the very areas we are dedicated to: the defense of free speech, trustworthy information, and the celebration of diversity.

Regardless, what we need to focus on now are the same things we needed to focus on two months ago, two years ago, 20 years ago: our core values.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.—Margaret Mead

We are a not-so-small group of thoughtful, committed citizens. We change the world daily by opening up new worlds to our patrons through literature, research, and technology. We empower people to learn for themselves and, most important, to think for themselves. We educate and energize through our passion for learning and helping others explore the world around them and inside of them. We generate hope for a better world.

One of the cool things about libraries that I’ve discovered is that they appeal to people of all political persuasions. This finding was born out by the Pew Research Center’s finding that 91 percent of Americans think libraries are important. Let’s consider that for a minute: in a nation divided, one of the few things people can agree on is libraries.

We have a powerful platform, folks. Are we using it to the best advantage?

Here are examples of our peers who are using it to the best advantage in interesting times:

What’s next? Your guess is as good as mine. My advice? Let’s stick to our values, and carry them out with honesty and integrity. Let us do our work with kindness, as that is in short supply these days. Assume nothing about the person standing in front of you. Treat all with respect. Be the change you hope to see in the world.

In other words, keep doing what we’ve always done, but do it better than you did yesterday.

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich is Coordinator, Library Sustainability, Mid-Hudson Library System, Poughkeepsie, NY; a judge for LJ’s 2015 New Landmark Libraries; and a 2010 LJ Mover & Shaker

This article was published in Library Journal's February 1, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. Anne McCarthy Kennedy MLS says:

    Wonderful article, Rebekkah – thank you for expressing these issues so clearly and calmly.