and the 2017 recipient of the MSLA School Library Advocate Award.
Oh yes, to some you are very, very dangerous people because you help your students search for the “truth.” You heard me correctly: I used the T word. When exactly did we arrive at this point where we use air quotes when we speak about the “truth”? When did we eschew the possibility of knowing the truth? Whether one ascribes the break to the horrors of World War I, Freud’s insights into the unconscious, Einstein’s theory of relativity, Picasso’s cubism, or subsequent post-modernist disjunctions, is a discussion for another time. What matters to me now is that this freedom from a proscribed orthodoxy empowered our pluralistic society to embrace a multiplicity of perspectives. It allowed us to acknowledge that in the history of humankind the imposition of an absolute truth was always coercive. We saw this in the dogma of religions, the party line of totalitarian states, the duplicitous treaties of imperialists, the selectively applied, ironclad law of colonists. Our skepticism of an unbiased truth, not sullied by the agenda of the dominant culture, was healthy, indeed our skepticism spoke of conscience and a sense of fairness. The tolerance of our multicultural Republic is a shining example of civil society throughout the world. Many even agree that it is indeed the syncretism of ideas that fuel innovation, driving our creativity and our economy. You school librarians foster this creativity. You create the safe space in which these intellectual adventures can be pursued. The rigorous research skills that you teach are at the heart of this adventure. So have you given up on the truth? I know that you have not. However, in this new era in which we now live there are those who have distorted our skepticism about finding the absolute truth and turned it into cynicism about even seeking the truth. This is the world of “alternative facts,” and it is anathema to every professional in this room because if every exchange is transactional and the truth is only what you need it to be at any given moment, and you can change it on a whim or a wager or a whirligig, then why would our students bother studying at all? Why spend time learning logic or ethics or even the modalities of computational thinking? Would it not be better to encourage them to put all their energies into the “art of the deal”?
Please forgive me all my air quotes because in an era such as this every noun may well be subject to air quotes; meaning becomes up for grabs and he who can reach across the table most aggressively will grab meaning by the throat and strangle it into submission. We all know why Orwell’s 1984 is a best seller once again. So lucky students, lucky parents, lucky administrators, and lucky fellow citizens that have school librarians who can make a copy of 1984 readily accessible to whomever would like to read it. And this is one of the reasons I have been such a strong advocate for school librarians. At a time when almost every profession I can think of has at one time or another betrayed the trust of its clients—brokers and bankers, lawyers and doctors, police officers and CEOs, school librarians never have. When have you ever heard of a school librarian with a secret agenda? You have an agenda all right, but it ain’t secret: keep the doors open, keep the collections current, curate for context and meaning, provide the AMAZING, share your enthusiasms, empower through access, welcome EVERYONE to the inner sanctum! Does Veritas with a capital V live there, on a shelf, in a box, through an algorithm? I don’t know. But, I do know the sanctum is actually a portal and there is no better Virgil to guide our students than the school librarian.
To help you continue to lead the way for our young fellow citizens I am continuing my support of everylibrary.org and the great strategic work John Chrastka is doing. I am also helping to form with other business leaders in the publishing and printing industries a business task force with ALA to lobby Congress for robust funding for libraries. We met for the first time in DC on May 1 for ALA’s National Library Legislative Day. As a first step, we are sending letters before May 19 to senators in every state urging full funding for two library programs: the Library Services and Technology Act at $186.6 million and Innovative Approaches to Literacy at $27 million and to oppose all future legislative efforts to eliminate or defund the Institute of Museum and Library Services. We are urging all senators to sign annual letters on these and other library matters to the Appropriations Committee. I continue to reach out to my network to keep pressure on elected officials to support libraries for the health of our democracy. I am happy to share these letters with all of you to adapt as you see fit, especially with the May 19 date looming.
Thank you again for all the work you do every day for our students and our country.