This I Believe

I believe in the soul of libraries.

Libraries are about connecting—

...connecting people;

...connecting the great ideas of the past, present, and future;

...connecting communities;

...connecting individual hearts and minds with information that can save lives.

A library is a meeting place, a playground of the mind, a hospice, and a sanctuary — a place of wholeness and holiness, an oasis and a hearth. In the twenty-first century, a library is becoming a bustling crossroads and multicultural intellectual bazaar, where minds meet and spark. And it is all these things both in person and online.

Working in a public library restored my faith in humanity, and working in an academic library renewed my hope for the future.

• A young African man steps shyly up to the desk, looking uncertain and lost. His companion makes the universal sign for “library card,” his fingers forming a small square in midair. I survey the array of forms. There are applications in Amharic, Arabic, Somali, and Tigrinya. Which to choose? Something makes me not want to have to ask. I take a deep breath and offer him the application in Arabic. A radiant smile spreads across his face, as this Sudanese refugee feels welcomed and recognized, not a stranger anymore.

• At a mask-making workshop taught by an African American artist, one small boy hangs back uncertainly. The artist gently draws him to the table and they begin working together. Afterwards the shy boy dons his new dragon mask and boldly joins another boy to circle the library showing off their creations. A few days later, a librarian emails that she had been trying to connect with this particular child for weeks. “The workshop...was the first time I saw him engaged and happy in the library....When I asked if he would be interested in books on dragons he said "sure" and followed me to the shelf....The library is no longer just a place for his older siblings; [it] is now his place too.”

• A student at a tribal college leads a library tour for visiting Navajo middle schoolers. It is College Career Day. "Our campus is built in a circle like a hogan — and the library is at the center, in the place of the fire," he tells them. As he introduces them to the library's collections and electronic resources, he adds, "Let's just log on to this computer so I can show you some of our great databases. You can get full text articles on just about any subject." "Wow, cool!" the kids exclaim, as they press closer to peer at the screen.

The most soulful libraries become part of the life of their communities and welcome people with every kind of learning style. They open their doors to the imagination and to all the arts.

In ancient times, it is said that over the entrance to the great library at Thebes was this inscription: “Medicine for the soul.”

Some things never change.


Some Things Never Change

Excerpt from 1962 article, "The Context of Librarianship," by John Wakeman (Wilson Library Bulletin 37, 348):

We serve a society in flux, poised between annihilation and Utopia, torn by the technological revolution, swept by great social movements and great political changes, confused by a babble of conflicting traditions. It is a society that desperately needs both stimulus and a sense of continuity. It needs documentation of the truths it once held self-evident. It needs the raw materials of reflection and discussion, the makings of a consensus, the intellectual heat that will finally melt the contents of the melting pot.

Wakeman goes on to say: "That librarians have the courage and the wisdom and the vitality to meet these needs we have never doubted..."


In 1962, I got to glimpse the future:  the 21st century library.

And finally...I'm a 21st century librarian!

Entering Library 21

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Last updated May 1, 2009