Happy Thursday, dear readers! Today is Blog Action Day 2014 and this year’s theme/cause is inequality. I recommend checking out the Blog Action Day website to see a list of all the sites posting on the theme today as I know there will be some really excellent posts. Today I just wanted to write a bit about inequality and libraries to share some thoughts with you.
It is almost too overwhelming to know where to begin writing about inequality, so I’m going to zoom in a bit to libraries. Most of us have heard or seen the horrible statistics that show just how unequal the division of income and goods and medicine and opportunities are spread around the world. I’m sure some of us have contributed to charities, non-profits, and other organizations dedicated to helping fight inequality, in its many forms, in many places around the world. And I know some of us have volunteered time working with organizations whose missions are to help others. Trying to rectify inequality can seem like an impossible task and I know that it causes some people to give up hope, to throw up their hands, and to let others take point. But that isn’t the way to make the world better, but I understand the feeling of desperation and hopelessness and cynicism. So today, I’m not going to reiterate statistics or offer a way to fix the world (not to mention, I’m not sure how to do that), but I do want to talk about libraries and why I truly believe our work is vital in helping individuals succeed.
I work at an academic library on a campus of around 14,500 students. We have an incredibly diverse student population with many students who are immigrants and/or the first in their families to go to university. Many of our students come from what is termed “disadvantaged economic” backgrounds. Most of our students work, some work to support their extended family. We aren’t an Ivy League school and we don’t have the huge endowments, but we do have a fantastic community of students and we, at the library, are here to help them succeed.
In the library, we have the only open computer lab for students on campus. Some of our students don’t have internet access at their houses, so having a place to use our high speed internet is vital for them to succeed in their classes. We help everyone who comes into the library and access to information, I believe, is one of the key ways that we can fight inequality. Gaining knowledge, being able to make connections while in school gives our students the chance of succeeding, of “making it” in our incredibly competitive, individualistic, and income-centric society. We know that we can, in the library, help students succeed, even if for that day it just means being able to get their textbook on reserve instead of buying one or being able to find an article so they don’t think they have to pay for journal article access. While the cost of university is straining our ideals of public education here in the United States and contributing to a rising inequality, at least the libraries are still a place where people can come and get help and resources for free.
Because we are fortunate to have an information literacy course that is required of our first-year undergraduates, we have more of an opportunity to impart information and skills and resources that can help them with their schoolwork and with their lives. I take seriously my duty to teach them not only how to research and evaluate sources, but also how to use their new skills and knowledge to help others in their family do the same and to question the status quo so that they have a chance to create what they want in their lives. Their goals and mine for our lives might be different, but we can work together to see each other succeed.
Librarians, no matter where they work, have the ability to use their talents and knowledge to help obliterate the inequality of access to information. This is not some impersonal task, but one that is deeply personal and helps us work together on an individual level that I think makes the task seem manageable. I may no be able to change the world, but I can help someone today.
So while we may complain internally and externally that librarians don’t get the credit or respect that we deserve, we do get the thanks of those we help. And, in our small way, in our quiet way, we take a stand every day to do our part in going against the tide that says everything has to be a monetary transaction, that there always has to be those who have and those who do not have. Libraries gird us with the knowledge that allows us to reshape the world. And, I hope we reshape it to be more equal, more just, and more merciful.
So, dear readers, I leave you with John Oliver on Last Week Tonight talking about the Wealth Gap in the United States, and hope that you have a good day, a productive day, and hopefully a day that leaves the world a bit better than when you awoke. I’ll be back soon with more news and notes. Allons-y!