- R. David Lankes
This past Friday was our monthly Directors Council meeting. I loathe these meetings. As I've said before, I often add up the amount of money being spent in the room for meetings - and any small talk costs too much money. We deliberate over things that I don't think are important. Of course they are, to someone else, but as soon as they lose me, I'm gone - back on my laptop answering emails. This meeting, however, was one of the most beneficial for me - not because it was chock full of interesting information, but because of one short "speech" that another Director, one who I truly respect, gave. It quieted the room. You may think a room full of librarians is the quietest thing on earth, but that is not at all true. We are a noisy bunch.
This Director, speaking about the countywide vision that I've struggled within past posts, summed it all up. Words like "democracy," "right to privacy," "equal acess," etc. were passionately thrown around the room. Suddenly, the vision statement made sense to me. I get it. That is, ultimately, what we're here for. It is a greater purpose than just checking out books and having story times. We are needed in this country because we are the only place in the entire country where a person can walk through the doors, ask a question without judgement and get unbiased, free information to satisfy their need. Ta-da!
When I first became a library director, I had a nice long talk with myself. I am political radical, religiously judgmental, and have strong, sometimes unpopular opinions about everything from abortion to the state of America's education system. I concluded that I had to bite my tongue, hide my political and religious affiliations and nod graciously when sitting at dinner with local politicians. The librarian's place, I thought, was not to argue with potential funders.
Everyone - library directors included - have life experiences that shape their causes. We have pet projects that make us want to give extra help to all kinds of organizations - from homeless shelters to battered women to animal rescue organizations. As a whole, librarians are the most caring, thoughtful bunch of folks I have ever met. Why do we do it? Because we care - deeply and profoundly. And this is the important part for non-librarian types to remember - we have ways of doing it.
Today's librarian can truly achieve what others cannot. And with little money. If the tables were turned and I ran a homeless shelter, the first stop for me would be the public library. And I'd tell them my story (because librarians love stories) and I would tell them what I need. We need food, we need books for our children clients to read, we need computer training for our clients, etc. And I'm pretty sure it would appear quickly. And it wouldn't be to get the press - it would be because librarians deal every single day with community problems and they have a gift of helping to solve them.
Librarians are great at reference. We know that Google is sometimes a bit of a sham. Librarians are great at selecting books people want to read. Librarians are great at keeping your kids entertained. But our hidden talent - one that we need to start promoting - is that librarians are great at fixing problems. Oh, and we love our communities. A lot.
Recently, I've been doing things that are very unlike me. I'm sleeping quite a bit. I'm sitting and staring off into space, having an inner debate with myself about BIG issues. And I'm also making an effort to take time out of my day and participating in front line work at the library. Directors should be checking in books, we should be working the circulation desk, we should be standing by the door and welcoming people. These tasks help us see the big picture. And - thanks to the words of a very wise Library Director - my attitude towards our true purpose has been redefined. On Monday, I'm going to change some of the wording of our annual report. I had lost my way - I forgot the true meaning of libraries. I got caught up in the little things and needed someone to say those words - democracy, unbiased information, freedom. Much like a chiropractic adjustment, I feel like my brain has been realigned. And I remember.
Thanks, Deb - you're my hero (again.)