Wednesday, June 08, 2011

President Rhonda Puntney's Remarks on Advocacy for Support Staff Conference

WLA President Rhonda Puntney was asked to give a brief address to welcome Support Staff One-day Conference attendees on May 25. Here are her remarks:
About a month or two in to my WLA presidency, I began to realize that we are all in a unique position to advocate not only for ourselves, but also for our libraries and our patrons, regardless of where we’re employed.  Advocacy has become an integral part of my daily routine, in and out of the office.  I particularly realized this one day shortly after Lisa Strand, the WLA executive director, and I cancelled Library Legislative Day in February.

I returned home after a doctor’s appointment to pick up my laptop and the inevitable stack of work I’d taken home over the weekend (and barely glanced at) and I quickly scanned my email.  We have voice-over-IP phones at Lakeshores, which is great because I can quickly see who’s called and hear the message from my email when I’m home.  On that particular day, the message I’d received was from John Berry, the editor-in-chief for Library Journal.  He wanted to talk to ME – ME – about the events going on in Madison.  And he wanted to talk about why we cancelled Library Legislative Day.

Instead of being cool, calm, and collected – and promptly returning his phone call, I called Lisa.  And I called a friend from ALA Council, someone I knew who knew John Berry.

So when I did finally return his phone call, I had a list of things – talking points – ready to go and the confidence in myself to articulate what I wanted to tell him about our situation in Wisconsin.  I commented then to John Berry, and he used it in his column in the March 15th edition of LJ, that I was “guardedly optimistic” about how we’d fare with the legislature, and our local funding agencies.

Charles Simic’s comments in the New York Review of Books on May 22nd on the death of public libraries called “A Country without Libraries”, draws attention to the issues of funding libraries.  I found this paragraph particularly telling:

“I heard some politician say recently that closing libraries is no big deal, since the kids now have the Internet to do their reading and school work.  It’s not the same thing.  As any teacher who recalls the time when students still went to libraries and read books could tell him, study and reflection come more naturally to someone bent over a book.  Seeing others, too, absorbed in their reading, holding up or pressing down on different-looking books, some intimidating in their appearance, others inviting, makes one a participant in one of the oldest and most noble human activities. Yes, reading books is a slow, time-consuming, and often tedious process.  In comparison, surfing the Internet is a quick, distracting activity in which one searches for a specific subject, finds it, and then reads about it—often by skipping a great deal of material and absorbing only pertinent fragments.  Books require patience, sustained attention to what is on the page, and frequent rest periods for reverie, so that the meaning of what we are reading settles in and makes its full impact.”

While I wholeheartedly agree with his statements here, as well as with the rest of his article, he neglected to cast an eye upon the aspects of library service beyond books and the internet that make all types of libraries in Wisconsin an integral part of their communities, whether it’s the small town community center focused public library, one of the many academic libraries on our college and technical school campuses, the large public library with several branches, or specialized libraries.

We are about so much more than books and free wi-fi.

What makes us strong is our adaptability, our ability to see beyond the demise of our esoteric view of the “library” as an Charles Simic’s traditional institutional icon.  I see that adaptability reflected in today’s breakout sessions on RFID, multimedia software, certification, customer service, degree completion, and “Semanticloud.0”.  (Which I have to confess, I had to look that up!  And I did exactly what Charles Simic warns against!)

How many of us got our jobs in libraryland or decided to back to school to become a librarian with a hazy mental image ourselves sitting behind a desk and READING?  How many of us had that bubble burst within the first five minutes actually on the job?  And let’s be realistic, how many of us today would find that challenging?

I also found it interesting that Charles Simic did not see how we’ve evolved from that iconic library to vibrant places of learning where all types of media are embraced for learning and recreational activities, and that at the center of it all he would have found US.  Those of us for whom “informational literacy” and “critical thinking” are more than a buzz words.  Those of us who don’t cringe from proselytizing the virtues of today’s public library to their neighbor in line at Pick and Save or Woodman’s.  And one of us who would still tell the editor-in-chief of Library Journal that she is “guardedly optimistic” about Wisconsin’s libraries.  We are the ones who make libraries strong.

1 comment:

Nanette said...

Great speech, Rhonda! You hit the nail exactly on its head. This is the kind of thing our municipal leaders need to see and hear ... often.

And thanks for your great letter to the Joint Finance Committee about WiscNet. It's hard to imagine a more counter-productive bill than this one. Do these guys even care about the future of this state?

You are turning out to be a fabulous WLA head, just what we need at this time.