Thursday, November 8, 2012

30th Year Reflections/23: The Day After

“The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work. And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.” — Governor Mitt Romney

"I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.” — President Barack Obama

I am predisposed, perhaps even biased. There are times when it is appropriate to state this up front. Today is one of those days. I cut my teeth on politics in Chicago. I am a member of the Democratic Party. I stayed up until three this morning (Wednesday) celebrating that predisposition, slept for two hours, and awoke to a new day. With the dawn came a fist-pumping joy, but also a sense of caution, a deep respect for the democratic process, a patriot’s love of country, and a desire to keep any impulse to gloat as far away from my being as possible.

My caution and desire to keep the crowing at bay is rooted, in part, in my professional identity. A few months ago I wrote about professional ethics and the ALA code. Allow me to refresh our collective memories with a few key statements from the code:

…In a political system grounded in an informed citizenry, we are members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and the freedom of access to information. We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations…

VI. We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.

VII. We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.
We are, indeed, at a critical point in the history of our country and we are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions. It is the day after the election and regardless of whether we won or lost it is time to put the common good front and center. We need to call up the best within our being—individually and collectively—to work to improve the life that flows around and through us. We, as librarians and keepers of the social transcript, need to do everything in our power to assist our fellow citizens and provide them with the full range and unfettered access to all the information, thought, opinions, and ideas under our care. We need to inform ourselves, as professionals, of all the issues that influence our abilities to do our jobs and to do them well. We need to advocate for positions that bolster the common good, make us all better citizens, and move us forward as a country.

Along the way we will, no doubt, disagree with others on what constitutes the common good or makes us a better profession. We will need to constantly interrogate our own thoughts and ideas, to make sure we find the correct balance and distinction between our personal convictions and professional duties. If we do these things with respect, with a continuing ear to the minority voice even as we stand in the majority, if we treat others as we would treat ourselves, if we look and work hard in times of conflict for that common ground and spirit of consensus, we will do great things. I am hopeful for our country. I am proud of my profession. I have faith in those ancient words that still ring true today:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

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