I recently got a forwarded email from some distant relatives. It was one of those rants about everything that is wrong with our country. And the solution, of course, is to forward the message to everyone you know. Normally these sorts of emails are quick victims of my delete key. But as I skimmed the email, several of the issues caught my eye. I actually agreed that these were problems because they are issues of concern to libraries and librarians, issues like privacy, digital rights to materials vs. ownership, and print vs. electronic books and periodicals.
Librarians tend to be liberals and are better known for stands like opposition to the Iraq War, political positions that alienate conservative elements of the populations. (As librarians go, I freely admit to being at the conservative end of the spectrum, slightly right of center for the general population but much more interested in pragmatism than party politics.) The voters who are most interested in fiscal restrain and budget cuts do not realize that, on some major issues, those liberal librarians are on the same side.
So, the question is: How do libraries convince the conservatives that by cutting our budget, they are harming an institution that is on the front lines of a number of issues of great concern to them? How do we get them to see beyond their perceptions of libraries as supporters of pornography to recognizing that our positions on copyright, digital rights, and privacy mirror theirs? I don’t have the answer. But in libraries’ current struggles to convince the public of our relevance, they can not afford to continue to ignore and denigrate the views of a significant percentage of our population, especially when those views match the libraries’ own goals.