The Day After the Elections: A Librarians Call to Action

So, here I am more than a year after my last blog post, wrestling with what to say after the 2016 election results.  I have written and scrapped this post many times over the last 20-hours or so.  This evening I engaged in a conversation with my Public Libraries class.  The room was heavy the moment I stepped foot in it.  Much like this post, I wrestled with what to say, if anything at all.  This is the best I can come up with.

I made a few confusions to my students.  First, I confessed that I lived in a filter bubble that really blinded me to the reality that Trump would win.  Yesterday, as I left my polling place, I had absolutely no idea that Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania or other states would swing his way.  Secondly, and most importantly, I confessed that I really don’t know how to fix this.  I am a fairly intelligent person, but I really don’t know how to fix this.  I know that our natural reaction is to blame specific tactics or strategies of the campaign, Clinton, Comey, certain voters, non-voters, etc, but that doesn’t address what this election represents.

Smart people will dissect this election.  I’m not that person.  But here is what I do know.  Libraries can must do something.  The effects of this election will be long-lasting.  The effects of this election will hurt many millions of people.  But, BUT, libraries have to play a fundamental role in mitigating those effects.  Now is the time to act.  The time to act like we used to.  Now is the time to help people in ways we just haven’t done before.  Now is the time for us to pivot, frankly, because no one or other institution will.  We, librarians across this country, must stand up and fights in ways we haven’t had to since our role in Suffrage movement.

First, we need to make educated guesses about what the near future will bring.  Then we need to make plans, create programs, and offer services to address these new or heightened needs.

We know that 20 million Americans will wake up one day, far too soon, and find they no longer have access to health care.  We will need to enhance our consumer health information programs.  We will need to help those 20 million people find quality health information, because, literally, their life will depend on it.  Every public library should be planning consumer health programs in order to be prepared for when that hammer drops.  They should be ready to engage and reach out to communities most vulnerable to the loss of the Affordable Care Act.  If you need help please contact your region’s National Network of Libraries of Medicine.  They are funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine to equip libraries to help the public engage in better health information seeking.

We know that millions of undocumented immigrants and immigrants of all types will be targeted for deportation and hatred.  Our space often serves as a community anchor and safe spaces for these vulnerable populations.  We must partner with non-profit legal organizations to help prevent the fracturing of families.  We need to hold programs and provide services to help plan for worst-case scenarios.

We know that the homeless, those dealing with mental illness, and millions of others of marginalized Americans will find themselves even more marginalized.  We need to engage in deep community engagement to determine who among us will be far pushed aside.  We then need to find ways to help them.

We know that race relations, already in very bad shape, will get worse.  I’m so proud of the work my local libraries have played in the BLM movement and getting the community to talk about race issues.  But we need to do so much more.

We know that millions of voices will be silenced from the civic process.  Libraries have long touted their benefit to civic engagement.  I call foul.  Libraries once were beacons of civic engagement but those days are far behind us.  We need to do more than helping people register to vote (which most public libraries don’t even do that).  We need to equip people to run for office.  We need to help form and host civic and issues based clubs.  We need to host programs on what the civic process is.  I can hear some of you disagree with me.  You will claim that we need to be neutral.  First, neutrality is overrated but I will leave that conversation for another day, what I’m proposing is neutral.  If you would only read our sacred history you would see that we’ve been the “cradle of democracy” exactly because we helped people engage in the civic life.

We know that this country is deeply divided.  We know that many organizations fan the flames of polarization because it serves them better.  Just about every American recognizes that we are far too polarized and that it hurts us.  Occasionally someone will pay lip service to this issue, but no one seems to be doing much about it.  What other institution exists in every community that can tackle this?  What other institution exists all over this country that can provide a safe enough space to have real, deep, difficult, and meaningful conversations between people who disagree?  Well this issues boils down to the free flow of ideas.  This is our wheelhouse.  This IS OUR wheelhouse.  The library must serve as the bridge between a divided nation.  We might need to teach or re-teach people to listen to understand not listen to reply.  That doesn’t mean that we need to get people to agree on issues, but we have to get people talking because no one else will.  We need to get people talking, talking to each other not at each other, because if we aren’t talking we aren’t healing.

This nation NEEDS TO HEAL and no other institution seems to be stepping up.  Yes, it is scary to take on this burden.  Yes, libraries and librarians aren’t equipped to tackle the healing of a nation.  But if not us then who?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

(Auden)

As David Lankes said early today, “our role is to act“.  What I’ve mentioned above is not an exhaustive list.  There are many problems that currently or will exist that I haven’t mentioned.  Maybe today you just can’t even think about this.  It’s too soon.  The wounds are too deep.  I haven’t given this post the eloquence it needs and deserves.  It may be riddled with typos and grammatical mistakes.  I may scrap this post too and start all over again.  I don’t know how to fix all these issues we face as a nation.  But I do see, I clearly see, the role public libraries and public librarians need to play.  We will need to acts in ways we haven’t had to for a very long time.  We will need to act in ways we may never have before.  But we need to act.  We must act.  We must act quickly because the pain this country feels if overwhelming and overbearing.  We must act to defend the child bullied because of the way she looks.  We must act to ensure that someone makes wise health choices.  We must act to give voice to those whose voice has been taken away.  We must act to bridge this great chasm between Americans.  We must act because it is our solemn duty and responsibility.  We must act because we might just be the last best hope for this country.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Day After the Elections: A Librarians Call to Action

  1. Susan Jeffery

    I think librarians need to continue to preserve the 1st amendment. This is what we have always done – protect the rights of the people to freedom of information without bias! I said without bias… It is not mine to say that because of the outcome of this election that hatred will increase and citizen’s rights will be jeopardized. I am looking forward to a place where families will be safe, where children can enter a restroom without fear, and where all opinions will be respected. I am a librarian, I voted for a Republican leader and I have a right to my opinion as well. I want to live in a place where I have rights too.

  2. Hi Anthony,

    I am happy to read your recent blog entry. I would love to talk with you or email, ElannaErhardt@gmail.com. I will graduate with my MLIS in December, and do not know when I will land a library job. I am doing a few things in my own community informed with my masters education. But I am concerned that I am not doing enough, or that I am unaware of what more I can do as an individual before working inside a public library.

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