Monday, January 24, 2011

Reading Between the Lines

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” -- Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr

It was thirty-eight years ago this month that I arrived at the University of Wisconsin in Madison to earn a master’s degree in Library Science. My professional life as a public librarian began in May 1974 when I packed my vinyl record collection and moved to Rhinelander. My first assignment was attending the Wisconsin Library (16 mm) Film Circuit meeting. I was twelve years old at the time.

(Readers who recognized that last line as a throw away tease big enough to accommodate an 8,000 pound carbon dating machine, are perfectly correct.)

Before allowing yourself to be gob smacked thinking about the astonishing array of technological changes to our profession as well as the way libraries access and deliver services during the intervening nearly four decades, consider what has stayed the same.

Librarians consistently and creatively deliver exceptional value for each and every dollar they spend doing their level best to make sure each individual has the same opportunity to read and find out, regardless of personal income or geography.

To those who do not understand the power and value of libraries, the tax supported building at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk may seem little more than a dusty warehouse for inanimate objects. Some who have never crossed its threshold might expect to find a static environment guarded by a cadre of fussbudget librarians who chose careers as exciting and palatable as boiled shoelaces, a space frequented by intellectual oddballs with nothing better to do.

On the contrary, a library is a living breathing organism, one of the few remaining places where community happens. Nothing in a library is static; it pulsates with energy and possibility! The best stories found within its walls on an average day are not confined between pasteboard covers marching across the shelves.

Every borrower – as well as each person who reads a newspaper, sits down at a public computer terminal, asks a reference question, attends a program or otherwise uses a library without taking anything home – carries an unfinished story within them.

In a self absorbed age saturated with communication gadgets, it’s ironic to note the elements of genuine interpersonal relations are frequently in short supply. Except at the public library, where any citizen will still find a warm welcome in their local government’s living room along with competent, confidential personal service.

Librarians work their socks off for their communities, and the outstanding people I am privileged to call my colleagues within the Wisconsin Valley Library Service area are no exception. They all do their best to make connections, offer a wide range of choices and otherwise shake the tree of knowledge for everyone who depends upon libraries as a lifeline. As a group they possess uncommon good sense and compassion; as individuals they each have their own stories to tell.

All of these stories need to be heard by elected officials and decision makers at all levels of government.


Stay tuned for more on the nuts and bolts grassroots advocacy in the weeks to come.
--Kris Adams Wendt

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