In trying to make sense of the election results, a lot of people – including librarians – have wanted to “do” something to preserve democratic values. Increased civic engagement and advocacy is perhaps the obvious way to “do” something, but it is not effective unless many people are engaged, have a shared message and get off the couch. The March on Washington, Take Back the Night and peaceful Vietnam era “end the war” demonstrations are prime examples of what mobilization can achieve, but does today’s public really have the willpower and enthusiasm to take collective action? Or can we take baby steps as librarians to incrementally make a difference?
One thought is to be “more library” than ever. You are at work anyway so it’s not really a big lift, right? Being more library means ensuring and increasing access to information for all people; building the digital and physical infrastructure to use technology to enhance learning and creativity; defending freedom of speech, intellectual freedom, and fair use; and protecting the very notion of sharing.
Here’s a great example of being “more library.”
The Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive, founded by Brewster Kahle, was mentioned on The Rachel Maddow Show last Tuesday. The Wayback Machine with its stored web page history was used by Rachel to uncover statements that Alabama Governor Bentley — embroiled in a sex scandal — now swears he never said. When Bentley’s longtime security chief Wendell Ray Lewis revealed details of the scandal for the investigation, he was terminated and filed an unlawful termination suit. The Governor said that “all of the outrageous claims” made by Lewis were “based on worn-out internet rumors, fake news and street gossip.” The Wayback Machine proved otherwise. (One could say that the Wayback Machine revealed “pre-truth.”) By archiving the nation’s web history, Kahle continues to advance the mission of libraries (aka “more library”), and it makes a difference every day.
Now Kahle is seeking funds to make an archived copy of the Wayback Machine and store it in Canada to protect its existence.
Kahle said “On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change,” writes founder Brewster Kahle. “It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change. For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a web that may face greater restrictions. It means serving patrons in a world in which government surveillance is not going away; indeed, it looks like it will increase.”
No matter what political party a librarian may be affiliated with, librarians believe in the fundamental tenets of librarianship (which look a lot like the fundamental tenets of our democracy). We all want fairness, public access to information and preservation of the cultural record. We know that libraries matter more now than ever before. My hope is that we will take this opportunity to shine, to protect the public interest and to really be “more library.”