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Libraries as the Alternative

Why are we so passionate about this institution?

I think it is because we can show something better, point to a better direction for our communities as a whole as well as the people in them.  Against some of the most bitter prevailing winds in our society, libraries offer an alternative:

In a world of noise and constant movement, we represent quiet, introspection, and sanctuary.

In a world drawn more and more to the transient, shimmering promises of the virtual, we represent a grounded reality that backs up our online innovations and preserves the works of today for the readers of tomorrow.

While content providers, publishers, and others work harder and harder to gate off the works they control, we insist on access for its own sake and challenge unscrupulous practices restricting it whenever possible.

As fear and anger of the “other” continue to be stoked, libraries persist as a haven where all are welcomed and their better angels appealed to.

With public discourse as toxic as it has ever been, libraries promote and enable discussion on important subjects without vitriol.

As the personal data of millions is bought and sold by the unscrupulous, libraries safeguard the privacy of their patrons (often backed with the force of law), empower them to protect themselves, and remain one of the few institutions that serve as privacy advocates on the national stage.

While ideological purity tests assail readers online, we continue to provide nonjudgmental access to works from all points of view, putting our faith in the reader.

As the gears of consumerism grind away the planet’s resources as well as the mental well-being of its inhabitants, libraries lead the way in sustainable buildings and fostering sustainable lifestyles.

While media companies encourage mindless consumption, libraries promote creativity, self-development, and exploration.

As attention spans atrophy and article-length texts dominate, libraries hold the line on long-form reading and the deeper understanding it promotes.

While algorithms provide users online with materials that reinforce the bubbles they have created for themselves, the serendipity and sense of discovery a library can provide is literally life-changing.

In a world of unscrupulous social media companies increasingly acting as the glue holding “friendships” together, libraries continue to connect people with the real-world relationships that make functional communities possible.

With entire industries both online and off preying on the uninformed and deliberately manipulating humanity’s cognitive biases for their own benefit, libraries remain one of the sole sources in society for education in information literacy.

And finally, in a society in which the vast majority scrabble to grab and retain whatever they can for themselves, where almost nothing is done without financial motivation, libraries remain open to all, owned by everyone, and one of the last bastions of the common good.

Library values show that there is another way, and while in many ways those values require us all - those who work in them and those who identify with them - to stand against the current, they are all the more valuable for it.  What remains is to raise our voices together  – to leverage our position in every community, to show that better path to those we serve, and to find common cause with those, online and off, that share our values to ensure that our vision endures.

 

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