In my usual end-of-year message I typically summarize the work NoveList has done to help you and your library change lives through reading. If you’d like to see some of our accomplishments, you can find them on our blog. But 2020 has been different so I’ll share a different kind of message.
Like most people, I’ve found 2020 to be a challenging year. At times it has felt like the very foundation of everything I know is shaking. A few things help me remain hopeful during the uncertainty, with family and friends at the top of that list. But also on my list are libraries. Their existence gives me hope because it reminds me of our potential — as individual people, as communities, and as a country — to be better than we are today.
Many people have a favorite memory of the library from childhood. For me it was the fact that I could wander rows and rows of books and choose whatever I wanted. I loved knowing that I could (potentially) read ALL the stories, learn about any topic, take home as many books as I wanted. It felt limitless.
At the time, I didn’t realize that those stories were having any kind of profound impact on me; I just knew that I enjoyed reading. But I now understand that those stories shaped me and gave me views into the world that I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced.
Of course, it's important to ask ourselves some questions about which stories can be found in those library stacks: Are they truly limitless for everyone? Do they represent diverse perspectives? Are the stories inclusive of the entire community? Those answers matter because what's available in the library’s collection can be like a reflection of the world, offering windows and mirrors that can open our eyes and change hearts. This is something we desperately need in our divided country right now. For some people, the library may be the only place where they encounter a perspective other than what they grew up with at home.
By providing us with access to many perspectives and ideas, libraries help grow our potential to understand each other. Which is a critical skill when you need to coexist. The challenge for libraries is to feed that potential with lots of different stories from lots of different characters and lots of different perspectives — providing the fertile soil where growth can happen.
What libraries can offer is the promise of a better future by offering the stories and the space that we need to grow into our potential. The tricky part is, each one of us needs something just a little bit different. One person might need silly stories that help them stay motivated to learn to read, another might need inspirational stories to help them change their life, and another still might need deeply emotional stories to feel better. The library can be ready for ALL of those people — ready to help them change their lives.
At the library, instead of harsh words and fast news, we can find quiet encouragement to explore the ideas that most interest us, as well as the opportunity to encounter ideas that might challenge us. We can be welcomed to learn about any issue or read any story. We can be welcomed to come together in a shared place, learning the benefits of coexistence.
I want to acknowledge that I’m describing a fairly ideal vision of libraries, and as institutions managed by humans, they are subject to human biases and faults. So I’m not suggesting that actual libraries don’t have problems, but I want to convey that the library as an idea is a really lovely vision of what is possible when those humans aspire to greater things. That lovely vision believes everyone should have access to books... believes that reading can help people grow; believes that when we read, we gain a deeper understanding of others and the world around us; believes that we’re better and stronger when we come together, reading stories about each other, and striving to reach our potential.
As we near the end of 2020 (can it come soon enough??), I’m looking to libraries to help us all see our potential. But for that to happen let’s remember that we also have a responsibility to ensure that libraries are a priority in our communities.
Danielle Borasky is the Vice President of NoveList. She is currently reading Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas.