When people find out I am retiring after almost 50 years in the library profession, they often remark that I must have seen a lot of changes over the years. But as I reflect back, I have to admit that although on the surface libraries today indeed appear very different, I think that the foundation I was lucky enough to have received has supported me through the seeming changes.
The formats of the materials we provide have certainly evolved, although newer formats do not necessarily replace older formats. The challenge of access is an enormous issue as technologies change, but I think that access was also an issue when libraries were buildings fixed in place and not necessarily available to all segments of a community, or they housed materials that were not relevant or accessible to the needs of all in a community.
I entered the profession at a time when most libraries probably functioned in the traditional, stereotypical sense of libraries – quiet places, full of books, usually supporting a white middle-class American value system. However, I was very fortunate to have been part of a federally funded program in library school that was called, “Cross-cultural Training in Librarianship: The Librarian in a Pluralistic Society,” which focused on underserved populations.
Through that library school program and a stint in the Peace Corps in Fiji where their public library system was *the* center of the community and an integral part of everything that went on in that town, I began my career understanding what a dynamic library can mean to a community. I took those experiences with me as a core value, no matter where I worked or what type of position I held.
Now more than ever, we need to justify our existence everyday by the proactive work we do to make sure there is no doubt how important we are to those we serve. What I appreciate so much today is the call for advocacy and social action within the profession. But I do worry about how polarized our society has become, and I see this sometimes within the library field, also. How can we advocate without alienating the “other side?” How do encourage engagement and empathy? How do we assert our ideals, but at the same time truly listen?