White House Petition, Round Two

There has been a lot of talk in LibraryLand about whether librarians and friends of school libraries should have signed the White House petition that, if it successful, would be considered as a possible action step for President Obama to mandate librarians in every school. Despite strong lobbying by many librarians, the petition did not receive its requisite 25,000 signatures within the 30-day window. I understand the motivation for such an effort.

Blog posts in support of the petition abounded. Two blog posts stating reasons why the authors were not signing were also written, receiving powerful, sometimes angry responses.

Diane pointed out that librarians have a responsibility — an imperative — to model digital citizenship, and incendiary, threatening comments, no matter how well-intended, do not model digital citizenship.

Wow – that hit me really hard. We are such an exhausted band these days, that sometimes I worry that things are slipping out of our mouths that we don’t intend. (I saw other examples of this in a free Webinar last night, as people almost cavalierly chucked forth negative comments.) I have never seen school librarians so tired, so genuinely drained. But we cannot deny that if we want to be seen as a high-caliber profession, we need to know how to have civil disagreements and to conduct our conversations politely in public.

I know how hard LibraryLand is for many of you. I have had years of feeling the shadow of the guillotine on my neck (and if I don’t perform according to my current school’s high standards at next year’s review, I’ll feel it again). It alters how we see the world and our possible or impossible role in it. I know the pain of the loss of support staff, of reduced budgets, of feeling like you’re alone.

But all of that does not give us permission to insist that the profession speak in a monolithic voice or to invoke Heidi Klum’s, “You’re either in or you’re out.” And it does not give us permission to be unkind to one another. Francis David said, “We need not think alike to love alike.” I want to be part of a profession of people who love their roles as instructional librarians and know that the profession only grows when we engage in tough conversations. And for us to persevere in those tough conversations means we have to practice having them kindly. I’m reminded of Jon Stewart’s speech on the Mall a few years ago:

Look, look on the screen. This is where we are, this is who we are. These cars. That’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high, he’s going to work. There’s another car, a woman with two small kids can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, swinging — I don’t even know if you can see it — the lady’s in the NRA and loves Oprah. There’s another car, an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is us.

Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear, often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.

And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile-long, 30-foot wide tunnel carved underneath the mighty river, carved by people, who I’m sure, by the way, had their differences. And they do it, concession by concession. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go.

Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Uh, well, that’s OK. You go and then I’ll go. And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst.

Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together. And the truth is there will always be darkness, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the Promised Land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey.

Similarly, our wise university librarian, Paul Courant, in speaking to my class last year, reminded us that there is a difference between adversaries and enemies. Adversaries want similar outcomes but see differences in how to get there. Enemies have hatred. You can work things out with an adversary, but not with an enemy. You’ll serve on a future committee with your adversary, so you need a civic exchange that preserves a relationship for another day.

Some of you have been treated horribly by your employers as your jobs changed or were eliminated, and that is incredibly painful. I am reminded of the South Africans who, after apartheid, chose the Truth and Reconciliation Committee instead of revenge against those who had oppressed them. Which citizen do we want to be? The one that heals and moves forward? Or the one who seeks vengeance?

Carl is gathering input so he can try again with a new White House petition. I highly recommend that you visit his blog and add your feedback. We librarians believe strongly in democratic principles like access, prohibition of censorship, freedom of information, freedom of the press, and freedom of ideas. Let us not, when times are down, allow external pressures change that in us. You go and then I’ll go.

One Response to “White House Petition, Round Two”

  1. Hollie Giannaula says:


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