Letters

Librarian as Activist

Trump year 1

What have you done in the last year to respond to the upheavals in American politics?  This is an installment in a series of short essays that reflect on the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.

A sign at the January DC Women’s March remains with me: “I thought our mothers took care of this.” It was like a gut punch to me, a 70-year-old former U.S. Vietnam War and civil rights protestor. It reminded me that after I got back from DC, my work wasn’t finished.

I began with phone calls and emails, about one hour daily, to local, state, and national leadership on such issues as net neutrality, ACA, and tax reform. Then I got active locally with CU Indivisible and lately, with our local Bend the Arc chapter, Hineni (“Here I am” in Hebrew.) Since I did political work at the American Library Association and made visits or wrote library policy for Capitol Hill with the folks at the Washington Office, I understand how important local activism is. My biggest problem became how to focus and be effective.

And so now I am in a somewhat different place. I have decided to use my librarian skills as my focus on activism. I am currently preparing a pop-up Fake News project to be used in library workshops around Champaign County. It is still being tested. It will be used internationally as an on-line course for librarians, who can then teach library users.

Librarians around the U.S. are engaged in an essential question: “Are Libraries Neutral?” This discussion will be crucial to the future of the ethics of our profession. It has begun on Facebook and will continue at our annual midwinter meeting.

2017 also brought changes to my personal relationships. My husband said in January “Well, retirement as we knew it is now over.” He is 74 and immediately signed up for training at the local Immigration Project, which processes applications for immigrants. He has already processed 8 or more, with countless hours of training and driving to meat packing plants and meetings around the state of Illinois. This week he travels to Liberia to continue his work with the UIUC Mortenson Center for International Library Programs. He will assist government agricultural extension workers to develop a database to give Liberian farmers the latest scientific information. I write about him because 2017 made me realize that political activism has been part and parcel of our marriage. Rightly or wrongly, I could not be married to a Trumpite. U.S. relations with other countries is now crucial since we have lost so much respect overseas.

Bend the Arc is a Jewish group and our focus locally is on the Dreamers. For Jews, this issue hits very close to home. Looking inward has become a very important daily routine and the support of these people, as well as our havurah, has been essential to my personal well-being.

Ever the reader and writer, I have found the following helpful: The Guardian, Ha’Aretz, The New Yorker, Atlantic—the thoughtful essay format works best for me. I write monthly Letters to the Editor for our local newspaper. For me, being active is what helps me survive.

I am not optimistic. I see a slow decline in democratic institutions and processes and it is overwhelming and began before Trump but is now escalating.

Barbara M. Jones is the former Director of the American Library Assocation’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, and the Executive Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation.  She is also an Affiliate of the University of Illinois iSchool.

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Barbara M. Jones

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