Blazing Trails, pt. 8: Pioneers! O Pioneers!

January 14, 2011 at 11:25 pm

This is the final post in the Blazing Trails series. Previous posts can be found here: part 1part 2,part 3part 4part 5part 6, part 7.

The entire time I’ve been working on this series (much longer than I originally anticipated), I’ve been thinking that the final post would focus on leadership. But lately something else has been percolating, and with the announcement of the Governor’s proposed budget here in California this week, it finally coalesced. For those of you outside of California, the proposed budget cuts off virtually all state funding for public libraries. My friend Kathy Gould has a good summary of the situation on her blog, and another post which reveals some of the unintended consequences of the proposed cuts.

It’s a frightening prospect. Some libraries will be harder hit than others when the cuts are first effected, but the ripple effect in the loss of LSTA funds and the sharing network built up in this state over many years will affect all of our libraries and dramatically decrease our potential for long-term survival. On a more personal note, my heart breaks at the thought of losing funding for Infopeople and the Eureka! Leadership Institute, which has had such a profound impact on me both personally and professionally. The state of California is in bad shape, and I know there are no easy answers. I know we’re going to feel the pain one way or another. But a total elimination of funding for libraries creates more problems than it solves.

We have to make sure we don’t defeat our own cause. Librarians value intellectual freedom, we are opinionated and can be a fractious bunch. In recent years there’s been a lot of debate in library land about the best way to move forward. But now is a time for unified action. The steps we take today determine our future survival, and we have to get ready to enter battle.  The Whitman poem I referenced in the title of this post is actually a little “manifest destiny” for my taste, but he has some good images and phrases that stick in my head:

Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger

Library advocates have fought many tough battles over the years. As some tire, others always step up and take up the charge. Some of this fight is very familiar, but it’s taking place on some new terrain. We have to continue to learn from those that have gone before, and continue to break new ground as we move forward.

We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

I admit, I get really frustrated when people resist change or refuse to try new things. I am often tempted to say something like this:

“Them that’s going,” he said, “get in the goddamn wagon. Them that ain’t, get out of the goddamn way.” – William Faulkner [via Attempting Elegance]

And you know, sometimes that’s necessary. But right now we need to pull together, and the more people I can get in the wagon the happier I will be. At times like this, we need leaders who will be bold, take risks, show the way. But we also need others – people who will march alongside us and say “you can’t do that to my library. You can’t do that to my community.”

And in the end it doesn’t matter that to one person the library is books and literacy, and to someone else it’s ebooks and databases and to someone else it’s summer reading program and storytime and to someone else it’s video games and DVDs. I think The Library is bigger than any one person’s conception of it. It’s big enough to be what each person needs it to be. That’s our strength. So rather than pulling against each other, we have to remember how to pull together in a common cause. Abraham Lincoln said it much better than I ever could:

We can succeed only by concert. It is not “can any of us imagine better?” but, “can we all do better?” The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

And our libraries, too, I hope.

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Entry filed under: libraries.

Meanwhile… Places of Realized Potential


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