President's Update - December 8, 2016

MLA President Kathleen Zaenger
Tis the season, when the hours of daylight are shorter, to put up lights to brighten the darkness and celebrate the December holidays. It is also the season for giving and being thankful for the gifts we have received. Many of the traditions and customs surrounding the December holidays involve sharing food and celebrations and showing kindness to those around us.
I am listening to the audiobook, "On Immunity: An Inoculation" by Eula Biss. In it, the author thoughtfully explores through literature, research and conversations, the fears we have of government and the medical establishment. She tells of her son's questions about the story of Stellaluna, a baby bat who falls into a bird's nest. Stellaluna learns to conform to the ways birds act because momma bird threatened to ban her from the nest if she did not obey "the rules". Later, as adults, the birds say to Stellaluna, "How can we feel so different and be so much alike?" This is one of the lessons of the story. When we threaten or feel threatened or fearful, the world is divided into "us" and "them". But when we learn to find common ground, we can be friends.
"Us and them" brings to mind how this year's election was one of the most contentious in recent history. It makes me wonder how we can find common ground and build community through civil discourse - and how the library can play a major role in this. As fewer people are reading traditional books and content becomes more digital, most of us in library land are exploring new ways to engage more deeply in our communities. Libraries have a reputation for being neutral and respected for providing content that represents various viewpoints. Given its resources and community connections, the library is in a perfect position to leverage opportunities for civic discourse on important community issues.
In the spirit of this season, I urge you to contemplate how we can find common ground through civil discussions with the library helping to light the way.
Our library community is working to help us find ways to encourage civility while we support those who rely on the library to be a safe and welcoming space. MLA along with the Coop Directors Association, Library of Michigan, MCLS, MIALA and MAME are once again working together to explore a collaborative program that would address this topic which spans all library types, sizes and geographical locations. Watch for details early next year.
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