The Boston Marathon bombings were tragic and unsettling. Tragic because lives were lost or damaged. Unsettling because echoes of the 9/11 attacks reverberated in our souls louder than was comfortable. Feelings of vulnerability, unease, suspicion, and a raft of other emotions bubbled back to the surface, suppressed after so many years. We didn’t invite those emotions into our being, but they came all the same. Some of us, perhaps, shied away from the endless news cycles that followed the explosions. We didn’t want to hear any more than we had to. I, on the other hand, had a different response. News junkie that I am, I was glued to the coverage from the immediate aftermath into the days ahead, culminating with the lockdown, manhunt, and capture on Friday evening. In the middle of the week, at a hockey game no less, Bostonians showed us their true character in singing the national anthem. I cried and cheered at the same time while watching the clip on the news (and again and again online). “Boston Strong” came through loud and clear. The bombings took place on “Patriot Day.” The bombers should have known better than to mess with Boston patriots.
I find myself, nearly two weeks after the event, continuously reflecting on what all of this means. I’m torn between those proud emotions of a national anthem at a Bruins game and knowing this is the same government that gave me Watergate, Iran-Contra, and other scandals/constitutional crises. I’m torn between the courage and unwavering compassionate skills of first responders and the breathtaking intelligence sweep that managed in a matter of days to gather, organize, analyze, and put into actionable briefings, maneuvers, and tactics all the video, photographic, electronic, and other source materials. To call for, receive, and act on such a mountain of data in such a meaningful way in short order is both amazing and terrifying. I’m torn between a government that has given us the USA Patriot Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (and its associated secret courts), Homeland Security, the FBI, CIA, NSA, and the whole alphabet soup of government agencies in evidence during that week in Boston with the other side of government that offers help, assistance, counseling, and comfort during emergencies and disasters. On Friday evening I even saw one individual wearing a diplomatic security windbreaker. It was “all hands on deck” for the Boston bombings. We watched it all on the nightly news. The weight and might of our country was on full display.
When I began my professional career there was no Internet where individuals could find out how to build a bomb. There were no cell phones to use in remotely triggering a bomb. There was no Homeland Security agency, Patriot Act, or FISA. It is a much different world thirty years later. So how does my profession inform my responses to events like Boston? What tools does my profession give me to be an informed professional (and citizen) in an age of global terrorism? At the moment I’m sitting in an all-day conference on advocacy. Perhaps some of the professional answers and direction are here. We know the importance of an informed citizenry. We know the importance of intellectual freedom. We know the damage caused by censorship and secrecy. We know how to reinvent ourselves in the midst of technological revolutions. We know how to respond to a subpoena, how to react to book challenges, how to network, communicate, blog, and raise public awareness. Now, more than ever, we need to attend to what it means to be a library/archival professional, how our codes of ethics inform our actions, who to go to in our professional organizations when we don’t know the answers or how to proceed in a time of crisis. Boston and its aftermath tells me, in a very urgent way, that now is a time for vigilant attendance, advocacy, and action within and beyond our profession. Patriot Day is Librarian Day, every day of our lives.