Last year provided librarians, archivists, and information professionals with plenty of reasons to be concerned. We faced alarming threats to funding, devastation brought by hurricanes, and an unsettled social and political environment. But I also found a number of reasons to be hopeful. I spoke to a couple of groups recently and shared what I consider to be the top 10 reasons to be excited about what we as librarians do, and places to look for encouragement as we get to work in this new year. Here is that Top-10 list for your consideration:
10. Millennials – According to the Pew Research Institute, the group most likely to have visited a public library in the last year. Half of all millennials have visited a library in the last year. And most Americans, especially millennials feel libraries help people find trustworthy information. See http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/30/most-americans-especially-millennials-say-libraries-can-help-them-find-reliable-trustworthy-information/
9. “Ex Libris” – This is a 3-hour, 17-minute film released in late 2017 by the noted documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman about the New York Public Library and the new role of public libraries in our culture. The movie has even shown up some critics’ lists as one of their top films of the year. My favorite line from the trailer: “We do mind-building, soul-affirming, life-saving work.” Watch Ex Libris Trailer.
8. The Aspen Institute – This non-profit research institute, in collaboration with the library community, has articulated a new vision for the public library in the 21st Century complete with an action guide and a series of community dialogues. If you are not already familiar with this, Google Re-Envisioning Public Libraries and download all this material for free at http://www.libraryvision.org/.
7. Broadband – This is a rare item of completely bipartisan consensus and libraries are increasingly recognized as being vital to this conversation. We are approaching this from several angles and the result will be a recognition of libraries as a key to broadband access in communities. (And by the way, our Libraries Connecting Texas project is going well, but all you libraries that have been contacted, please act now to secure your E-Rate discounts for high-speed internet service in FY 2019 and beyond.)
6. Open Data Movement – including such phenomena as Digital Public Library of America, the Internet Archive, Open Education Resources, Open Content, and MOOCs. These movements have huge potential for libraries to be at the crossroads of various movements to access information and shape the future of information delivery.
5. Center for the Future of Libraries – A project of the American Library Association, if you haven’t visited the website, it is a great way to learn about new and promising trends in library work and especially in the context of the larger society. Required reading. Online at: http://www.ala.org/tools/future
4. Fake News – The focus on “fake news” in the public dialogue over the past year has focused attention on how to be sure information found in media and online is reliable and trustworthy. This discussion has allowed library leaders to rightly remind the public that libraries have long been at the forefront of media literacy and a trusted and reliable source of information. The Knight Foundation is the source of much good thinking right now about the role of libraries and other cultural institutions in addressing community and societal challenges. Knight also sponsors the Knight News Challenge on Libraries grants to answer the question, “How might libraries serve 21st Century information needs?” And see this recent AP article on libraries helping students to distinguish real from fake news: https://apnews.com/64b5ce49f58940eda86608f3eac79158
3. Library Freedom Project – A partnership of librarians, publishers, and others who endorse and actively protect the privacy of library users from intrusion and surveillance of library users by government or corporations. Alison Macrina, founder of the Library Freedom Project will speak at the Texas Library Association annual conference in April in Dallas. Online at libraryfreedomproject.org/
2. LSTA funding – When the President zero-funded IMLS and LSTA, Congress not only pulled us back from the brink, they gave us an extra million. Why? Because libraries are an always have been good politics. LSTA is not much money, but it demonstrates huge positive work in virtually every congressional district in the country. Here’s hoping it stays that way.
1. Hurricane Harvey – While Hurricane Harvey was without question one of the most devastating natural disasters to strike Texas and the U.S. in recent years, and one that caused extensive damage to many Texas libraries and special collections, there was a hint of a silver lining. Harvey provided an opportunity for libraries to show why they are designated an essential service by FEMA. Up and down the Texas coast from Port Aransas and Rockport up through Houston to Port Arthur near the Louisiana border, Texas libraries opened their doors to their communities in their time of need. Library workers, who themselves were often impacted by the storm, exhibited dedication bordering on heroic to get their facilities open and available to citizens in need. Soon after the storm, with several of her libraries still closed, Houston Public Library Director Dr. Rhea Lawson, wrote the following eloquent lines in an e-mail, reflecting on the power of libraries in times of crisis:
“We recognize that during catastrophic times libraries are even more essential as people need a trusted familiar anchor and touchstone in the community to remind them that everything will be all right again. But most all – our mission right now is to restore the joy in the eyes of children and adults who have seen so much destruction, and experienced so much fear and uncertainty.”
We applaud Dr. Lawson and her team at HPL, along with all the other librarians across Texas who serve their cities and counties so valiantly, even in the face of daunting odds. I am certain with that strength of character and determination, libraries are going to succeed and prevail as vital to their communities in 2018 and for many years to come.