Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The US Social Forum, 2007. No.475.

This e-mail from PLG Coordinating Committee Member, Monika Antonelli, speaks to Librarian involvement at the US Social Forum as well as to how Libraries Change Communities and Communities Change Libraries.

Kudos to everyone who attended the World Social Forum. The work you did was very important. Showing up is 90% of being able to effect change. I wish I could have gone with you but my new job did not allow me that flexibility.

I think it was important for librarians to attend this event because everyone who did attend the WSF are our potential allies. That being said, I think we need to continue to educate this vast network of organizations on how the libraries and librarians can and do support their organizations work and the work of the entire activist community. If we could energize this immense pool of concerned and dedicated people to support libraries because libraries support them, just imagine what a powerful engine for change that would create. I am personally going to take on this challenge.

An idea came to me while I was reading Bill McKibben's new book, "Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future." This is a man who understands the importance of community for the creation of a livable future. I ask you, what organization is more important to a community than the library? The library is there for the community. Each public library tailors itself to support the needs of the community, be it helping the elderly understand and apply for new health care plans, or helping Katrina survivors fill out FEMA forms, or helping adults get their GED, or helping immigrants apply for citizenship, or having computers available for personal use, or just offering story hour to children. You all know that the list of what libraries do for their community goes on and on.

So why don't the people who are working for change utilize us more? Why don't they tell others about what the library has to offer? Why don't they ask us to order books, CDs, DVDs, they would like to read/hear/watch? Why aren't more of them booking rooms for meetings in the library? And why aren't more of them telling their city officials why it is important to fund libraries? I think it is because we have not gotten our message out to the activist communities. Some may be aware of what libraries have to offer but many activist are not. I discovered this first hand when I took my permaculture course in 2005.

My fellow permie students, who were very savvy people, many who functioned as leaders in their community, did not know that they could go to their public library and ask them to order books on topics they wanted to research. They did not know that the library was there for them and that they could have influence in the selection of items purchased by libraries. An example of this was brought to my attention by Fred a young man who works as a computer tech in Iowa City. Fred has dedicated himself to educating people on the need to get rid of their lawn and use it to produce food and wildlife habitat. After the permaculture course he took my advice and went to his public library to request that they order some permaculture books. He was surprised and thankful when they did. He wrote to me and told me this. He also told me if I had not educated him on what the library could do for him he would never have approached the library for these books. Now Fred can continue to educate people in his community and also he can refer them to the public library for books that support his work.

I think we need to get the message out to the activist communities that Libraries Change Communities and Communities Change Libraries. This is a message that Leslie Burger, Past ALA President championed during her year as ALA President. We can do this by educating local groups, but on a larger scale we can also do this by educating authors like Bill McKibben. He and other authors writing about the coming post carbon future are looking for solutions to the problems ahead. I think we have one solution in the library and it is a win-win situation for everyone involved. By reaching out to these communities we make the library more relevant and also by engaging these communities to support libraries we prove our worth.

So bravo and brava to all of the librarians who attended the World Social Forum. I hope you will join me in continuing to build on this work.


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