Live in Central New York? I Need Your Blood

On June 4 from 12-6 is the 6th Annual Lankes Family Blood Drive at Holy Cross Church in Syracuse, NY. Ready access to blood has saved my life through my treatments for cancer. One pint of blood can save the lives of several people. Summer is also a high need time for blood donations.

There are spots still available for donors. The Syracuse community has been so supportive of me and my family. I am asking you to extend that love to cancer patients across the area.

Please call 1-800-RED-CROSS or visit RedCrossBlood.org and enter: LANKES to schedule an appointment. Also, there is good chance you can get a $5 Amazon gift card!

Librarianship in an Era of Big Data: The Vital Human Touch

“Librarianship in an Era of Big Data: The Vital Human Touch.” Conference of European National Librarians. Mo i Rana, Norway. (via video conference)

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Abstract: In a world of AI and Big Data the values, skills, and mission of librarians is increasingly vital. How do we prepare our professionals to guide and support communities across the EU? How do we ensure the smart citizen is at the center, and in control of the smart city? It is crucial that librarians advocate for issues of privacy and the common good in the midst of a growing market place that transforms users into products. How can librarians increase their value, work with technology giants to shape services, and in the end help our communities make smarter decisions and community members find meaning in their lives.

[This is the script I used for my talk. I’ve also taken the opportunity to add some foot notes and links.]

First, I must begin with an apology to Cecile and the organizers. For weeks they have been asking for slides. I have struggled to put into a concrete form what I want to say to such an important and, frankly, intimidating crowd. I have also spent a year wrestling with cancer and a bone marrow transplant. I don’t say this to get sympathy (maybe a little), but I have found that the experience has given me a new perspective on things that I am still trying to integrate. At once, I am grateful for just about everything, but tend to be less patient with things I feel need changed. And to be clear, as I look out at my home country and across the Atlantic, I see some need for change.

This crystalized for me when preparing for the talk and kept coming into the phrase “memory organizations[1].” If indeed Santayana was right that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it[2],” then what obligations does that place upon institutions who are charged as memory keepers of nations? I would argue that as stewards of cultural heritage, we are also stewards of society. I would also argue that we must stop serving communities, and start building them.

Our communities, our societies, our cultures are too important to sit on the sidelines and simply observe or collect their output. We must recognize, without the haze of nostalgia, that we are actors in this world and accept a responsibility to work directly with communities of all types to shape a better tomorrow. 

Now this could, and should, take many forms. Confronting growing economic disparities, alerting the world to the dangers of xenophobia mixed with nationalism, or confronting the realities of climate crisis. I could talk about the continuous marginalization of whole segments of the population because of race, or class, or sexual preference. Marginalization by society, and indeed, all too often by librarians and the libraries they manage.

Today, however, I would like to use just one societal issue to support a call for national libraries to directly build communities. This incredibly consequential issue often goes unnoticed. It is the dangerous aspects of an increased societal reliance on data-driven algorithms generated by artificial intelligence and machine learning methods. 

Before I begin, let me throw out a few caveats and clarifications. The use of data, when appropriately gathered and analyzed is incredibly powerful. Indeed, it underlies most of science. The rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and indeed Big Data has unquestionably brought massive benefits to many disciplines. The ability to search through trillions of pages in milliseconds, search across massive number of images, and the ability to automate complex processes have directly benefited librarians. The issue, as I see it, is when we believe that data gathering, analysis, and encoding into algorithms are somehow neutral acts without social costs[3].

In terms of clarifications; I will use the term community a lot. That is often seen as synonymous with towns, or citizens of a city. I use the term more broadly. When I say communities, I mean a group of people joined by some known variable and that share a means of allocating limited resources. A town is indeed a community sharing a common location, and a system of governance that allocates land, taxes, and other resources. A university is a community of scholars, staff, students, and administrators. A community can be a law firm, or a hospital, or a national library.

The other caveat is on the topic of national libraries. I have done some work with national libraries, but much of my relevant experience is working with state libraries here in the US. There is an old joke that once you know one state library, you know…one state library. I don’t pretend to be an expert on European National Libraries. However, from what I’ve seen, this is true of your institutions as well.

Some of you are active in networks with public and academic libraries. In some countries, there are multiple national library agencies. Some actively seek to support business communities[4], others focus on scholarly research. Bottom line – no one set of issues or models will reflect your great variety.

That said, I am reminded of the saying, “every idea is a good idea in libraries, just not in my library.” It is very easy to focus on what differentiates us now and believe that prevents collective action in the future. I hope I can successfully persuade you otherwise

So, with the caveats and clarifications out of the way, my purpose today is to recruit all of you to build a network of proactive librarians around European. I am calling on you to directly support, train, and empower librarians from those working in the most rural public library to those in the most prestigious university. What’s more is that I am asking you to engage in community building to shape a better future. Why? Well, let’s start with a story.

Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit[5],” tells the story of an angry father who storms into a department store to confront the store manager. It seems that the store had been sending his 16-year-old daughter a huge number of coupons for pregnancy related items: diapers, baby lotion and such. The father asks the manager if the store is trying to encourage the girl to get pregnant? The manager apologizes to the man and assures him the store will stop immediately. A few days later the manager calls the father, only to find that the daughter was indeed pregnant, and the store knew it before she told her father.

What’s remarkable is that the store knew about the pregnancy without the girl ever telling a soul. The store had determined her condition from looking at what products she was buying, activity on a store credit card, and in crunching through huge amounts of data. If we updated this story from a few years ago we could add her search history and online shopping, even her shopping at other physical stores. It is now common practice to use online tracking, wifi connection history, and unique data identifiers to merge data across a person’s entire life.

I am hardly telling you anything new here. Facebook is only the latest business to dominate the headlines with privacy breaches, and hidden data gathering. Most citizens of the EU and the US now live two lives: their own, and one created, often without their knowledge, from the digital debris created through our devices. Add to this increased requirements by governments and businesses alike to be online – to apply for a job, to vote, to receive health care, to listen to music – and we see a world that is moving faster than regulation, and faster than realization by those we seek to serve.

In Toronto, Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is working with town planners to redevelop Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront. The story of transforming old industrial areas into gentrified multiuse spaces is nothing new. However, a large part of the controversy in this case comes in the plan to make the new neighborhood a data generator. The plan, according to The Intercept, “includes a centralized identity management system, through which ‘each resident accesses public services’ such as library cards and health care[6].” There has been a large debate over who owns and controls the data generated by that system, and who can profit from it.

Many librarians might look at these examples and claim a sort of ethical high ground. After all, as a profession, we explicitly value privacy. In the US we count it as a core value of the field, and yet we often undermine it. We tell our online patrons that we don’t track their work. And yet their internet provider can indeed track every click they make. Therefore, we are often misleading that patron and giving them a false sense of security. How many libraries set up TOR servers[7]or anonymizing VPN services[8]for our service populations? How often in our licensing of databases or other software do we explicitly forbid the aggregation of user data or the selling of that data? How often do we check on those terms?

Then there is the question of how all of this data is used.

In her book “Weapons of math destruction[9],” Cathy O’Neil documents story after story of data mining and algorithms that have massive effects in people’s lives, even when they show clear biases and faults. For example, an algorithm that led to outstanding teachers being fired. How? O’Neil writes about an outstanding teacher who had proven positive effect on under-performing students– raising their performance and grades significantly. As a reward, the teacher is given a year with honors classes filled with the brightest students in the school. However, the impact a teacher can have on honors students is not nearly as evident as those with students needing a lot of help. After all, top students receiving top marks can’t get better than, well, top marks. So the algorithm saw a teacher that was no longer effective in a classroom, and recommended the teacher be fired. Recommended by a piece of software using criteria that was hidden from teachers, and was assumed to be objective.

Algorithms are now used here in the states to determine health care cost and availability; access to credit for home ownership; suitability of a candidate for a job,; and even how long a person should be in jail.

Yuval Harari refers to this reliance on collectable data and algorithms as Dataism[10]. It is the result of computing power combined with machine learning and the wide availability of constantly connected devices like our phones. It is the belief that if you gather enough data on a person or situation, you can accurately represent that person or situation and predict an outcome.

It often also comes with some very dubious, and downright dangerous assumptions. Assumptions such as algorithms are objective, and that data collection is somehow a neutral act. Or even, that everything can be represented in a quantitative way – including, by the way, culture[11]. And before I make you wonder what any of this has to do with the work of libraries, or think I’m letting our profession off the hook, I have to say that librarians have suffered from some of the same dubious assumptions.

For too long librarians and library science educators saw ourselves as neutral actors. We collected, described, and provided materials believing that these acts were either without bias, or that those biases were controlled. In collecting we took it all…except for works that were self-published, or from sources we deemed predatory or of low quality. In cataloging we relied on literary warrant and the language of the community – often ignoring that we only saw the dominant narrative and voices. Our services were for all – from 9 to 5 with a researcher’s card who could travel.

We as a profession are now waking up to the fact that we are a product of our cultures – good and bad. We understand that the choices we make in everything from classification to exhibits are just that – choices. They may be guided by best practice, or enforced by law, but ultimately, they are human choices in a material world where resource decisions must be made. We can speed up digitization with newer machines, but we still have to pick a starting point. We can expand those we serve on the web, but still must acknowledge that there are people with no broadband or connectivity.

Now it would seem like this may turn to a call to redouble our efforts in neutrality. A call to wipe away the biases in ourselves so that we can confront the cost to society of skewed machine learning efforts. But it is not. In fact, we must embrace that libraries, and the librarians that build and manage them, are biased[12]. What’s more, it is only by seeing libraries as biased that we prove our value in the world of massive scale data.

First, we must realize that it is impossible to be neutral. Putting a book on a shelf or in a vault is a choice. Every day in archives and special collections we make professional determinations of how accessible an item is versus how protected it is. We can seek out many voices and yes, gather data, to make those decisions, but in the end, they are decisions with consequences. Pretending we are neutral doesn’t change the consequences, it only allows us to pretend they are not the result of our action.

Now, I keep calling them biases, but a better word would be principles. Principles are an explicit statement of belief. They should be transparent and, most importantly, able to be assessed. Are we following our principles? 

And make no mistake principles are not neutral. Seeking to serve all equitably takes effort and resources. Choosing to provide images for fee or free is a choice. Fighting censorship is a decision. If you don’t think so, try balancing it against issues of hate speech and threats to marginalized communities.

It is in our decisions and our transparency in making those decisions that we build trust with our communities. Our scholars, and entrepreneurs, and citizens don’t trust librarians because we are neutral, but because they agree with our principles and see them consistently applied. The days when libraries had the monopoly on access to large collections is well over. Yet libraries in most places the world are not only in use, but in growing use – public, academic, school, and national libraries alike.

Where library use (not necessarily support, but use) is growing it is because we are seen as accessible, equitable, and trusted. Yes, the collections we hold are valuable. The fact that we hold unique resources that either haven’t been, or can’t be digitized is important. But it is only important if those who seek out these resources trust us to be honest stewards of these resources.

It is our embrace of our humanity – our human touch in an increasingly automated system that underlies our value. This is not a luddite’s call against technology, AI, or machine learning. Rather it is a belief that human connection – community- is more important than ever when the face of government and business alike become web pages and bots under the banner of austerity or efficiency.

The future of libraries is ultimately not set by which technologies are developed or deployed. It is not in a value that was defined a century ago. It is in our very human ability to build trust with our communities. It is upon that trust that we build support. It is upon that trust that we build use. It is upon that trust that we find and confirm our necessity.

It is with that trust that we must reach out to the computer science community, the online industry, and the governments collecting data and deploying algorithms. We must advocate for a seat at the table and represent the voices of those without a seat. We must use the hard lessons we learned and are still learning in issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion to help guide these technologies. We must be trusted by our communities to speak truth to power and to give those communities power to speak for themselves. We must follow our principles in actively shaping, with our communities, the policies, regulations, and laws that talk about data. 

National libraries must play a large role in civic data stewardship. National libraries must not just safe guard the heritage of cultures, but the privacy and intellectual safety of citizens. You need to be a memory organization in the realization that effective memory is both about remembering, and, forgetting.

How do I resolve the paradox that I just advocated for a common role in institutions that I also acknowledge are so diverse? If indeed, you each represent unique institutions, does this preclude collective action? Of course not. Because in effect you are what all libraries must become. Every library- public, academic, school- should be shaped to the communities they serve. Then, as librarians, we become the connective tissue that seeks the best of all libraries and shape those innovations to local needs. Gone are the days when every library looked alike or supported some cannon of common services. Gone are the days when best practices extend to all libraries of a given size or type. Throw away the toolkits and instead build a toolbox[13].

We must prepare our librarians, regardless of title, or training, or location to be a missionary force proactively engaging in the well-being of our cultures and communities. We must build national peer networks that rapidly and effectively spread ideas and help librarians effectively shape them when they meet local needs. These networks discard best practice and industrial standardization for conversation, learning, and adaptation. We must connect the best thinkers together regardless of status or institutional boundaries.

How do important national institutions do this?

We must create platforms for continuous engagement of librarians where they can share, learn, teach, mentor and support each other. This may be built upon and with national and regional associations, but the focus is on individuals, not institutions.

We must create a system to formally recognize participants within and beyond this platform. Work with library science programs where they exist, but also extend the recognition beyond formal degrees to continuous learning.

We must recognize Lighthouse Libraries[14]that embody innovation and serve as inspirations, not blueprints, for other libraries.

We must proactively engage this network of change agents to transform libraries, associations, institutions, and ultimately communities globally. Members of our peer networks, our communities of practice, must encounter daily new ideas from across the globe.

Think of a library as movement, not a place or an institution[15]. It is a movement of people committed to improving society. Librarians, certainly. But also, scholars, politicians, entrepreneurs, programmers, and authors. Discard terms like users that reinforce the idea that our communities are consumers, and our only value is in the utility we provide to a demand. We have members and citizens; neighbors and scholars that all own and shape the library.

Most importantly, this will not happen in one hour of a conference. It will take more engagement, more experimentation, and more investment. That is why I support the PL2030[16]project. Building off of the Public Libraries 2020 project, it is a group of librarians from across the continent seeking to transform public libraries across Europe one librarian at a time. It advocates for libraries and builds connections between elected representatives and library innovators. But it needs help. 

PL2030 and the work of its members represent the need for a new vital link between the cultural heritage mission of National Libraries and public libraries. Libraries are transforming from access points, collections, and information providers into community hubs across Europe. From Manchester to Cologne to the amazing Dokk1 in Aarhus to Delft and Tilburg in the Netherlands and Pistoia and Perugia in Italy public libraries are the places communities come to learn, create and dream together. Here, by the work of innovative librarians, libraries have gone from quiet places of retreat to loud places of engagement. The true collection of a great public library is now the community itself. Blacksmiths and bakers host conversations. Librarians lend out books and musical instruments and recording studios. Rather than bringing the world to the community, these libraries have become loudspeakers broadcasting the community to the world. These public libraries have become the cradle of cultural creation.

As institutions charged in part with preserving and supporting the cultural heritage of a people, you need to preserve and support the work of these institutions. Not simply as a backup or for posterity, but as part of the living and breathing centers of community conversation. In a connected world – connected through technology certainly, but also in trade, in governance, and in preserving the earth itself – There is no more front-line service and library of last resort. We librarians are obligated to serve all, and in your nations now is a network of libraries eager for your partnership.

I thank you for your time, and I look forward to the conversation to come.


[1]Or “Memory Institutions” like the CENL Strategic plan https://www.cenl.org/wp-content/uploads/CENL-Strategy-2018-2022_final-1.pdf

[2]https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_Santayana

[3]I love Chris Bourg’s take on the use of “societal cost” in discussing AI versus ethics.

[4]I’m a big fan of the British Library’s https://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre

[5]http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/881631924

[6]https://theintercept.com/2018/11/13/google-quayside-toronto-smart-city/

[7]https://www.torproject.org/

[8]There are plenty of good articles explaining VPN. Here’s one that actually compares VPNs vs Tor: https://www.cloudwards.net/vpn-vs-proxy-vs-tor/

[9]http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1039545320

[10]http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1060991037

[11]This article certainly doesn’t claim that all of cultural heritage can be represented quantitatively. Rather I include the citation because it is a good introduction to the use of quantitative analysis of some cultural material and because it includes the very cool term Culturomics, “Culturomics is the application of high-throughput data collection and analysis to the study of human culture.” https://www.librarian.net/wp-content/uploads/science-googlelabs.pdf

[12]Here’s a good place to start on the discussion of libraries, librarians and neutrality:https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2018/06/01/are-libraries-neutral/In particular check out Emily Drabinski’s take.

[13]Pithy phrase, but in case it is not clear I mean stop sending out assembled ready to implement toolkits and focus on librarians gaining the tools to develop their own programs and/or create local application of programs customized to their communities.

[14]https://publiclibraries2030.eu/projects/lighthouse-libraries/

[15]Stole this idea from the amazing Marie Østergaard: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/princh-library-lounge-ep-3-building-global-networks/id1451326347?i=1000437039135

[16]https://publiclibraries2030.eu/

On Twitter, Movers & Shakers, and Library Heroes

[I’ve edited this post to remove a pointer to the tweet that set me off. It was pointed out correctly that the way my thread was a response to a person instead of making the point generally was unfair to the original person who tweeted].

So today I kind of went Twitter crazy and I thought it would be useful to share my thoughts for folks who are not on Twitter. Particularly for those who have left Twitter because it seems to a place where negativity rules in library land.

It started with a tweet about people who were recognized as Movers & Shakers by Library Journal. There has always been a love hate relationship with this list. The primary complaint is that there are plenty of folks who innovate and do fantastic work in librarianship not recognized on that list.

Here’s my reply to one of those posts (with a little editing for typos):

Know several who are still doing good work. I’ve never understood the need to tear down folks who get recognized in the profession. Just because they get called out doesn’t depreciate the great work everyone else does.

You don’t like the project, fine. The person makes bad professional choices, call them on it (as many have done with me with very legit issues). But we are a profession that is supposed to be about service and community support.

Some of these folks have been my students. Some my colleagues. Some friends, and many I don’t know. Still they are people trying to do good work…like we all are.

I love the question, have they burned out. Not because I hope they have, but because it begs the question how can we as a profession ensure folks don’t.

If we make recognition, no matter how dubious we may feel the source, a factor in burning out, what does that say about us as librarians?

On that list are there folks that seek out recognition? Sure. Are there people who flaunted the award? Sure. There is also a cancer survivor who risked her job to fight for labor rights. A school librarian who every day supports the most vulnerable students.

A professor who lost her home in a hurricane and still everyday advocated for broadband in too often forgotten rural populations.

A librarian in the deep south bring a community together to have a serious conversation on race.

We talk about libraries transforming and becoming community hubs. As a profession we too are a community. That means we have issues that need to be addressed frankly like race and inclusion.

That only happens if we feel safe in talking. Confront me when I screw up. Many folks have. It hurts, but when I deserve it, it should hurt. But don’t confront someone because someone else pays them respect.

I’ve talked to some of those Movers and Shakers after the award and many feel it’s like a scarlet letter. That makes me sad. We as a profession that proclaims improving society should feel joy for the recognition of others.

The elevation of one should be the elevation of us all. I’m tired of flinching every time I open Twitter. I want it to be a place that I learn from. Even if that is learning from my mistakes. It shouldn’t be a place we run from fearing our backs.

To be clear Twitter can be a powerful force in librarianship. It has called out the profession on powerful issues like race, hate speech, neutrality, fair labor practices, and vocational awe. It has been a place where serious topics like the philosophy underlying the field have been discussed. It has and can act as a sort of shared LibGuide on important topics. It is also a place where ad hominin attacks happen.

If we seek to facilitate knowledge in our communities – giving voice to a community with equity, we need to practice this among ourselves. This isn’t a call for civility in the sense of suppressing negative views or serious disagreement. It is a call for using platforms to invite fierce and powerful conversation that doesn’t punish people for sharing their ideas.

Then I decided to share some of the librarians and supporters of librarians that have been so vital in my career using the hashtag #MyLibraryHeros (yes, I now realize I misspelled heroes). As I said in a tweet “This list is only a start, and if I’ve misspelled a name or not listed you (yet), know that you matter.”

#MyLibraryHeros Just a few of the folks who I admire and learn from in library land. Most librarians, several “librarians by spirit.” 

Nicolette Sosulski, Todd Marshall, Angela Usha Ramnarine-Rieks, Heather Margaret Highfield, Jessica R. O’Toole, Xiaoou Cheng

#MyLibraryHeros Jocelyn Clark, Amy Edick, Elizabeth Gall, Nancy Lara-Grimaldi, Michael Luther, Kelly Menzel, Andrea Phelps, Jennifer Recht, Sarah Schmidt, and William Zayac, Scott Nicholson, Justin Henke, Meg Backus, Sari Feldman, Gina Millsap

#MyLibraryHeros Joanne Silverstein, Blane Dessy, Keith Stubbs, Linda Johnson, Sandra Horrocks, Jeff Penka, Susan McGlamery, Paula Rumbaugh, Gabrielle Gosselin, Agnes Imecs, Melanie Huggins

#MyLibraryHeros Kathryn Deis, Mary Ellen Davis, Jenny Levine, Anne Craig, Gwen Harris, Mike Eisenberg, Chuck McClure, Ray vonDran, Joe Janes, Eli Neiburger, Jill Hurst-Wahl, Mary Ghikas, George Needham, Joe Ryan, Megan Oakleaf, Blythe Bennet, Buffy Hamilton.

#MyLibraryHeros Marie Radford, Joann Wasik, Pauline Shostack, Holly Sammons, Rivkah Sass, Stephen Bell, Stephen Francoeur, Donna Dinberg, Franceen Gaudet, Karen Schneider, Joan Stahl, John Collins, Linda Arrett, Nancy Morgan, Melanie Gardner, Buff Hirko

#MyLibraryHeros Caleb Tucker-Raymond, Nancy Huling, Jane Janis, Joyce Ray, Bob Martin, Tasha Cooper, Mary Chute, Kathleen Kerns, Mary Fran Floreck, Kate McCaffrey, Lorri Mon, Marie Østergaard, Neil MacInnes, Erna Winters, Erik Boekesteijn, Ton van Vlimmeren, Ilona Kish

#MyLibraryHeros Chris Bourg, Emily Drabinski, Nicole Cooke, Emily Knox, Kathleen de la Peña McCook, Kelvin Watson, Lynn Connaway, Sally Pewhairangi, Jereon de Boer, Jorge do Prado, Anna Maria Tammaro, Sue Kowalski, Jan Holmquist, Andromedia Yelton, Liz McGettigan, Jessamyn West

#MyLibraryHeros Mia Breitkopf, Chelsea Neary, Loranne Nasir, Emma Montgomery, Lauren Britton, Sue Considine, Beck Tench, Cheryl Gould, Kimberly Silk, Wendy Newman, Lane Wilkinson, the entire South Carolina SLIS faculty and staff, Tamara King, Patrice Green, Jack Bryan

#MyLibraryHeros Ron Stafford, Robert Wedgeworth, Stuart Sutton, Courtney Young, Barbara Stripling, Carla Hayden, Peter Bromberg, Scott Walter, Sara Kelly Johns, Dave Tyckoson, Branwen Rhiannon, Cecilia Preston, CLiff Lynch, Dan Barron

#MyLibraryHeros Jim DelRosso, Mary Chute, Brian Dawson, Char Booth, John Chrastka, Patrick Sweeney, Heather Braum, Dustin Fife

#MyLibraryHeros Sarah Houghton, Ned Potter, Megan Oakleaf, Roberto Delgaillo, Rolf Hapel, Sarah Inoue, Bonny Ryan, Vickery Bowles, Miguel Figueroa, James Neal, Sandra Toro, Sandy Hirsch, Micheal Stephens, Andrew Bullen, Linda Smith, Liz Liddy, Kate Marek, Karen Snow, Hassan Zamir

#MyLibraryHeros OK, a partial list at best, but I need to take a shower and get on a phone call. Who are your library heroes?

Thank you all for shaping my view of the world. This is only a partial list. Please take it as an opportunity to share your list, however partial it might be.

Farewell to My Dear Friend Nicolette

Nicolette Sosulski

Today the world lost a great librarian and I lost a great friend. Nicolette Sosulski passed away from a long and brave journey with cancer. 

She was an advocate for the profession and a great teacher. She cared deeply about serving those in need. She was also a tireless advocate for librarians with a belief that we could all get better. 

I have no higher praise to give than to say she was my librarian. If I had a hard question or wanted to check a crazy idea she was there. Beyond professional, she was dogged, passionate, and a genius navigating sources and working with people. When I talk about librarians advocating for our communities she is the face I see. 

We began this latest road with cancer together. She was always there checking in and sharing. Even as her options dimmed, she was there cheering me on. She was clear eyed about what was coming and had a strength I cannot fathom. 

Today I miss my friend.

UPDATE: her family has posted this obituary:

On May 15, 2019, Nicolette Marie Warisse Sosulski, loving daughter, sister and mother of two children, Peter and Nicholas, passed away from a year-long battle with lung cancer at the age of 56.

Nicolette was born on March 20, 1963 in Louisville, KY to Nicholas and Doris Warisse. She grew up in St. Martha’s parish and graduated from Sacred Heart Academy. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from Georgetown University, Washington, DC and her Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Nicolette found her passion in librarianship.  The American Librarian Association, in their memorial resolution to her said, “She was a motivated information professional: relentless about investigating a research question, had a gift for connecting people to information, had a real knack for identifying areas of need and developing plans, Nicolette was all that a 21st century librarian should be.”  Nicolette loved all things Southern which included cooking, literature, and big floppy hats.  She had a passion for animals, rescuing over a dozen dogs and cats, either finding them homes elsewhere or taking them in and loving them herself. Nicolette was an award winning author, a witty and phenomenal online communicator – she took online messaging and managing connections to a whole new level.  Nicolette was enthusiastic, mindful, continuously curious, loved and WAY smarter than anyone else in her family.

Nicolette is survived by her father, Nicholas and her mother Doris, her two children Nicholas and Peter, her sisters Jeanine and Michelle, and her cousins, nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Portage District Library, 300 Library Lane, Portage, MI 49002.  

A mass celebrating her life will be held at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 936 Lake Street, Kalamazoo, MI, 49001 at 1:00 in the afternoon on Thursday, May 16, 2019 with a reception immediately following. The family is also planning a celebration in Louisville, Kentucky that will take place over Fourth of July weekend. 

Health Update

David in front of Davis College

It has been a while since my last blog post (March 21). It has also been a while since I brought folks up to speed on my health in this blog (October 15th). So, this is going to be a long one…but I’ve tried to make it easy to skip through.

TL;DR version

  • My bone marrow transplant appears to have been a success and I am past most of the restrictions and limitations that came with it.
  • I return to work as director of the School of Library and Information Science July 1.
  • I am still limited in my ability to travel

Fast Recap

At the beginning of 2018 I was diagnosed with two forms of lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system): Follicular and Large Diffuse B Cell. I underwent several rounds of chemotherapy that put the cancer in remission. However, chemo has limited long term effect on the slow growing follicular lymphoma which inevitably transforms into a more aggressive form – Large Diffuse B Cell. 

On the advice of doctors in August 2018 I had a bone marrow transplant at the Duke Medical University and started a 3-month medical confinement in Durham for daily treatments. For those of you that may have a case of Déjà vu, this was my second transplant. The first was in 2014 for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The big difference was that the earlier transplant was autologous (using my own preserved stem cells and marrow) and this one was allogeneic (bone marrow from a donor – my son).

The goal of the transplant was to either kill any cancer remaining after the chemo (and there was a very high likelihood that the cancer would return) and/or to replace my faulty immune system that produced the cancer cells to begin with. A new immune system should be able to identify the cancer and kill it.

The transplant replaces my entire blood system. The result was a nonexistent and then very weak immune system. In late November I was able to move back home. In December I contracted an infection that sent me to the hospital and set back my recovery.

During my transplant and recovery, I have been working remotely, and Dick Kawooya has been interim director of SLIS. The whole of SLIS and the College of Information and Communications has been incredibly supportive during this time and I am indebted to them.

Since December I have been getting stronger, and my new immune system has been growing stronger as well.

Where I am Today

A bone marrow transplant replaces your entire blood system. Today most of my blood counts are normal or near normal. My immune system is not so much weak, as inexperienced. Colds won’t kill me, but they will hit me hard for example. In August I will get my infant vaccinations again (for the third time in my life). I still need to avoid big crowds and be a bit paranoid about cleaning my hands. I also tire easily. It could be another year before I find my new normal energy level.

While I am past the possibilities of acute problems with the transplant, I have run into some minor issues. Marrow transplants are the only major organ transplant that doesn’t require lifetime anti-rejection drugs, and I am off of those. However, there is always the possibility of chronic Graft v. Host disease. That’s where my new immune system sees parts of my body (or the whole thing) as a foreign invader and attacks it. So far this has only shown up as a skin rash and is treated with topical steroids. This happens because of UV light, and I have to wear sunscreen all the time [as an aside, I took someone else’s blood to keep me alive and I have to avoid the sun…I am a vampire].

It will also be at least 4 months before I should get on an airplane, and a few months after that before I can travel internationally. I am planning on being at ALA Annual this year in DC (driving), and hope to see plenty of friendly faces again.

On July 1 I will return as director of SLIS full time. I’ve already started going into the office a bit and Dick and I are doing the leadership handoff. Let me take a moment to point out what an incredible job Dick has done this past year.

The Future

At the one-year point in August I will go back to Duke for an evaluation. This will be a battery of blood tests, immunizations, possibly a bone marrow biopsy, and the first CT scan monitoring for cancer. It is easy to forget where this all started, but all of this was to give me the best chance to kill my cancer and “let you meet your grandkids,” (actual doctor quote). The general consensus is that all my lymphomas have been connected, and this donor transplant is about curing me of lymphoma for good.

Monitoring for cancer sounds a bit ominous. However, the majority of people with cancer recover and go on to lead normal lives and careers. So do heart attack patients, and stroke patients, and…you get the point.

I am anxious to get back to work. I love my SLIS team of students, staff, faculty, and alums. We have so much planned for the years ahead to improve society. Thanks again to all of you for your support, thoughts, and love during this process. I, and my family, will be eternally grateful.

So, there you have it. No Boring Patient book sequel, and this blog should get back to its regularly scheduled purpose of world domination through librarianship.

CUBISS Documentary on Community Library

cubiss logo

The folks at CUBISS in the Netherlands have put together a great video on libraries and communities. It is in Dutch with English subtitles. They were generous enough to include me.

I’ve been working with CUBISS for a few years now on preparing librarians to engage the public and put communities at the center of their work.

Here’s what they say about why they made the video (via Google Translate:

Community Library: a search for the new library
In a world that is changing, the library is looking for a new role. Cubiss asked documentary maker Joep de Boer to portray this search. In the documentary, directors, people from the field and library innovator David Lankes share their vision.


The documentary is intended for library directors. It helps them to tell the story of library in transition. Both internally, to their own employees. But also externally, to partners in the social field and local politics.


Land locally 
The documentary does not provide clear answers. It is primarily a means of entering into dialogue with each other.How can you land the library’s new course locally?


Continue talking 
The film is not isolated. We organize a number of meet-ups to discuss this further with each other. The first is in Tilburg on April 10, then another on April 13 in Haarlem.

Expect More: From Change Agent to Advocate

“Expect More: From Change Agent to Advocate.” Congrès des professionnels et professionnelles de l’information. Montreal, Canada. (via video conference)

Speech Text: Read Speaker Script
Abstract: Society needs librarians who are non-neutral, proactive change agents.

With French Subtitles

[This is the script I used for my talk.]

Bonjour, je m’appelle David Lankes … and with that I will stop abusing your beautiful language.

Today I’m here to talk about being a change agent. I am also with you today to celebrate the translation of Expect More, a book I developed with libraries across North America to help change agents move our libraries and librarianship forward. I will refer to some ideas today that are explored in greater depth in Expect More and I hope you will become part of the conversations around the book and the field moving forward.

So what can I say about change agents? I could talk about things like the power of narratives. I could talk about the difference between innovation and invention. I could put up models of change, show the famous Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovation distribution of early adopters to laggards. I could talk tactics like building a coalition of the willing and how to get the resistant on your side.

I could, and may, talk about those, but to begin I would like to tell you a joke, and then ask you a question. Here’s the joke:

An old professor of mine used to tell me Change is like Heaven…everyone thinks it’s a good idea, but no one wants to go first.

And this leads to my question. If you are preparing to be a change agent, what change are you preparing for? Many of folks who resist change are not stubborn or chronically cynical – they are unsure. We who seek change often have passion and enthusiasm, but sometimes lack the specifics needed for folks to evaluate and accept the change.

You see, that’s the problem with change. Many of us assume it is a positive thing. We talk about technological advances, not technological randomness – even though all of those advances at once can lead to extraordinary disruptions in our lives and communities. Yes, I can now transmit pictures of my lunch instantly to my friends, but at the same time thousands of people can now know where I am eating. I can email folks in the middle of the night with my great idea, but at the same time I can have a boss asking me how we are coming along on that great idea first thing the next morning.

And it is hardly just technology. Not even 5 year ago in the United States we were celebrating a Supreme Court decision that made gay marriage legal. Now we have a federal Department of Justice and Education saying that firing someone for being gay is legal, and trans students in schools have no protection.

Every year in South Carolina we graduate our new librarians in Rutledge Chapel. Rutledge was the first building that housed the South Carolina College – now the University of South Carolina. During the US Civil War, the building was used as a hospital for confederate soldiers. After the war it was opened up as a Normal School where professors of all colors trained freed slaves to be teachers.

However, once union troops withdrew and a new governor was elected he shut down the normal school and the college and re-opened it a year later for only white male students. It would be another 83 years until the university accepted another black student. I tell this story to our graduates to make the point that no change, not even a something so vital as a civil right is ever permanently won.

So, I assume that we are all here because we seek positive change in the library field. We want our communities, be they towns, or colleges, or businesses, to be well served.

But of course, that is not enough to enact change. What does well served mean?

I am here to tell you that we can no longer answer that in the way that we used to. We must expect more out of ourselves, our institutions, and our communities. And in order to do that – we must let go of long held notions of the field.

The first idea we must move past is that librarians and the institutions we build and maintain are neutral. If we talk about positive change, if we talk about smarter communities, if we talk about improved service – we have a point of view. Even if we talk about quality – we must acknowledge that high quality is different from low quality, and that takes a judge or arbiter.

We have seen the narratives of libraries change over the past decade. No longer do we talk about libraries as collections, or libraries as access points. Today we talk about libraries as transformational; we talk about a library’s mission as center of a community, or even necessary to promote democratic participation. We point to studies of libraries as investments returning so many dollars for every number of cents invested.

This line of reasoning is not neutral. Democratic participation is seen as good – community building as a proper use of dollars, and return on investment as a useful metric. Decisions all.

After we acknowledge that we are not neutral – that we seek to do good, to make positive change in communities – we must know there is a difference between providing a community with what it wants and providing them with what it needs.

Now, this has always been the case and it has reinforced some of the worst parts of society when seen in retrospect. Carnegie built libraries because, in his opinion, the workers could not choose what was best for them. We segregated libraries in the United States to prevent civil discord. We kept fiction out of public libraries because it was not seen as educational. Libraries are products of their society’s failures as much as their successes. Even so, libraries must quest to constantly do better.

So today, libraries do not seek to become Amazon because we believe in the importance of privacy and the need to serve all in a community – not just those who can afford it. We fight against racism and intolerance because diversity and learning are core to our mission, and the richest learning occurs in the presence of the most diverse views. These values of transparency, diversity, and learning don’t just stop at the library door – they must become part of our mission to instill them in the community itself. To be a true change agent is not to serve a member of the community, but to empower that person to advocate for their own needs and aspirations. And when some sector of our community is unable to advocate for themselves – then we must be their activist.

An activist not just for literacy, or library funding, but for equity of access to opportunities and throughout the community. Activists for new citizens. We must not simply be a service to a community, but a voice for the power of equity and leaning within that community. I wrote in Expect More “The difference between equal and equitable? The same (equal) versus fair (equitable). Equal service to a community almost always means ideal service to a sub-group, and variable usefulness to every other segment of that community. For example, letting anyone in a community borrow books is equality. Providing Braille books to the blind is equitable. Book borrowing, equal, home delivery to the housebound, equitable.”

When the Topeka public library in Kansas identified readiness for school as a priority of the community, they sought to increase literacy in 4 and 5 year olds. When they found that the lowest literacy rates were in one urban neighborhood – a neighborhood of poverty – they worked to build a bus route to bring people to the library for free. When the community couldn’t make it to the library because of the demands of multiple jobs, the librarians went in into the community. When there was more need than the librarians could provide they trained community volunteers to take up the slack.

When the Cuyahoga County library in Ohio identified the horrible reality of prisoners being released without resources – leading to a huge rate of re-incarceration, they acted. They went into the prisons to provide job skills and education. When they found no prison libraries, they worked with partners to bring in tablets loaded with materials and learning software. Then they set up appointments for released prisoners to meet with their local neighborhood librarians who helped them with housing and job skills. When they identified that ex-prisoners were losing benefits like food support because they couldn’t find stable housing, they worked with the county government to allow local library branches to be their official homes and to check in with their library card.

In the streets of Toronto, librarians drive Internet enabled cars into needy neighborhoods. In other Canadian towns libraries operate needle exchange programs, or host health fairs for the homeless.

All of these innovations were put in place because librarians came together to define positive change and what communities needed.

And so we come back to being a change agent. What change are you seeking? I tell you now that changing the mind of the 30 years of service reference librarian who still believes that the library should be books and wants to bring back the card catalog is impossible if you try to do it one change at a time. The first thing you need, we need as a field, is a vision of librarians changing all of society. Without this big vision, every change will be seen as incremental, a fad, and something to be waited out.

We need a vision where we can articulate why a makerspace belongs in some libraries, but not others. A consistent vision that talks about why some libraries need more stacks, and some need fewer. In essence we need a cohesive vision of the field that allows librarians to build libraries that are responsive to the unique needs of their unique community, but still part of a larger societal force.

For a long time, we thought that vision was based on information. Why did libraries go from physical owned materials, to physical and digital, owned and licensed resources? Because people needed information, or so the argument went. Books, databases, web pages, it was all part of an information buffet we laid out for our users. And indeed, they were no longer patrons, or even people, they were users. We defined people as what they sought to consume, and we worked very hard to make sure their consumption experience, their user experience, was efficient.

But something happened along this route that increasingly made librarians uncomfortable. Librarians found themselves compared to and aligned with an information industry that did not share our values. Suddenly user experiences in libraries were being compared to user experiences with Google and Facebook. At first as good examples, but librarians began to realize that the industry’s view of people as users, and interactions as experiences was being driven by a quest for data that could be monetized. Technology and data, once seen as neutral, now was being used to drive purchases, and was recreating old inequities. Ultimately making a sale and making meaning in a life are not the same thing, and librarians are increasingly rejecting this narrative. This is not the change we seek to bring to our communities.

It was never stated like this, but it emerged in how librarians started seeing their job and their relation to a community. Suddenly we were talking about third spaces, harking back to Oldenburg’s ground-breaking work. In Europe libraries become the new piazzas, the new town squares. We talked more about democratic participation, learning, and empowerment. Why did libraries move to embrace makerspaces? OK, part was because it was trendy, but the language around their adoption was not on technology and innovation, but empowerment. People, no matter their income or access to industry, could make things.

These ideas of meaning, of community, of providing a place apart from monetizing people as data does not fit into a vision of information. Instead we, as a community, needed to expect more of ourselves and our communities needed to expect more of us. There are thousands upon thousands of information sites available to our communities that are anxious to get our communities’ eyes and their data. We seek their minds and their ways of making meaning.

That is not information – that is knowledge. Our business, in the 4 thousand years of our discipline, has been to make communities smarter, and the lives of community members more meaningful. That starts in their heads – how they see the world. Humans are not just thinking organisms – we are learning organisms. That whole drive to learn and the unknown can be used to create novel and additive experiences to sell product, or it can be used to expand a person’s possibilities.

The librarians of Topeka, the citizens of Ohio, of Toronto, and Edmonton, and British Columbia are examples of how to build knowledge and empowerment. The literacy volunteers in the poor streets of Topeka were not informing users, they were educating people. The homeless of Washing State have come to see their library not as a point of distraction, but as a place to see new possibilities. They seek out the warmth of the building, but also the warmth of human compassion.

And to be clear, what works in Topeka, may not work in Montreal and what works in Plateau-Mont-Royal, may not work in the Borough of NDG. Knowledge is based on the uniqueness of our communities, not some standard that fits all. The days when libraries looked and worked the same across a province, or a country, or a globe are over. The true skill of a librarian is not implementing best practice from abroad, but in understanding their community. Does your college seek to be a top research university or a great teaching institution? Is your neighborhood affluent, or does it need you to serve as a social safety net?

That is a change we can believe in. That is a change that matters. That is a change that is durable.

So, you want to be a change agent? Fine, here’s what you need to know:

You are not neutral. You are less a change agent than an advocate for change. You have a point of view. Listen to your community, learn from your community, and know your professional and personal values. Then act upon them.

You are a facilitator. Yes, librarians can catalog and search, they can manage information, but the great change in our profession is adding the new skill of facilitation to librarians’ tool sets. Your community is your collection and you need to be able to engage that community and get them talking together. And then we must go even further. We must understand that a library is co-owned with the community. Not just overseen, or funded, but in every aspect of operation librarians must team with the community.

Communities are unique and librarians bridge to the global. For too long we viewed libraries as a product of the industrial age, and we sought efficiency and standardizing everything. You could walk into a library in Montréal or Toronto, or Hong Kong and they would have the same general structure. Now, we want community members to walk into a library and see themselves, and their uniqueness. It is the job of the librarians to find the best in Hong Kong and Seattle and adapt it to the local community.

It is time for us to expect more. We should expect more of ourselves. Librarians today don’t simply organize collections of offer programming. We engage communities and advocate for those communities. We empower community members to seek out their best selves and to find meaning. We no longer collect the work of story tellers, we are the story tellers weaving together the narrative of the community from the diverse threads of community members.

We must expect more from our communities. Instead of seeing those that we serve as passive users, we must see our community as a vast array of expertise and aspirations. We need to stop seeking to serve the community, and instead seek to engage that community – to partner with that community. To unleash the powers of that community upon the world.

We must expect more of society. We must work to make our communities more welcoming. We must seek to make our communities more knowledgeable. We must not only be a pace for reflection and investigation, but advocate for more reflection and discussion throughout all of our communities.

As I said in Expect More, a book I wrote and that the librarians of Quebec have now translated into French: Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities. That’s not to say that libraries shouldn’t have good collections, or that libraries shouldn’t have services. Rather it is a call to librarians to focus on the community – the community is your true collection.

We must constantly look to reinvent and understand this profession anew. That’s what a living profession does. We’ve been around for 4 thousand years not because we haven’t changed, but because we have. And we’ve changed not simply because change is always good, but because our communities’ needs have changed. They’ve move from small towns and hamlets to the country side to farms to urban settings. We’ve moved from a slow pace of generational knowledge of monarchies and patriarchies to urban cities and new ideas of democracy. And all along librarians have been part of that transition. We have been advisors of kings, and now are advisors to everyone regardless of rank, regardless of wealth, regardless of race or creed or color. That’s why I am proud to be a librarian. That’s why we need to continue this conversation.

Thank you very much.

Information Science Versus Library Science in the in the Era of Technology

Chalk Board with Notes

“Information Science Versus Library Science in the In The Era Of Technology.” Keynote to the ICLIS International Conference 2018. Bandung, Indonesia. (via video conference)

Abstract: A brief discussion of how the field of library nd information science should be seen as a conversation, and the importance of talking about knowledge and social impact

South Carolina Library Association Remarks

Comments to the South Carolina Library Association. Greenville, SC. (via video conference)

Speech Text: Read Speaker Script
Abstract: South Carolina Libraries can help lead the world and help save it.

[This is the script I used for my talk.]

Today I am going to ask you to save the world. But that seems like a kind of heavy place to start, so instead I’d like to start with cancer.

There is a reason I’m not there in person, and a reason I have not been coming to visit your libraries recently. You see I am in confinement in Durham, North Carolina. I realize that sounds like I’m in prison – which might not surprise some of you – but confinement is actually a medical term.

In an attempt to rid me of cancer on August 24th my son donated nearly a liter of his bone marrow to replace my own. For the past 60 plus days I have been confined in Durham with daily visits to the Duke Medical Center for treatment. There were plenty of difficult days where just getting out of bed was a success. Daily transfusions of blood, 21 pills a day, and a white blood cell count of 0 can really take it out of you. But, I’m getting better. As I get better, I’m finding Netflix a bit less entertaining, and it turns out that I really hate jigsaw puzzles.

So my mind turns back to the world. It would be easy to find another series to binge or another book to read, but the world intrudes on any oasis after a time. I promise this talk won’t be a political venting. But it is impossible, no matter your politics, to see the stress and strife in the world. Issues of immigration, opioids, embolden racism, and a desire to pit us versus them seem to be a pandemic.

Between the nightly news and the overwhelming article sharing on Facebook – Facebook which seems to be in a race to get rid fraudulent voting information and leak our personal data-it seems we are entering into a new cold war with Russia, or China, or apparently a cold civil war. Twitter is toxic. The blue wave is coming or it will be overwhelmed by a red wave. Every commercial on Durham television after 6 is one politician bashing another. And don’t even get me started on the Pete Davidson/Ariana Grande split.

[Play Ghostbusters Video]

OK, that might be a bit over the top…but not so much for everyone. My point is that our communities are divided and under stress. Yuval Harari, the author of books like “Sapiens,” talks about this in his latest book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century.” He contends that the world organizes around huge narratives. Before World War II it had three to chose from: fascism, communism, and liberalism. By the way, liberalism as in liberty or more precisely liberal democracy – that’s us in this picture. After the War there were two: communism and liberalism. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, just one.

And now, too many of us see liberalism falling apart, or so Harari argues. When we are without some large guiding narrative, big questions become impossible to answer with consensus. Why do we fight a war? What is the purpose of our foreign policy? What is the American Dream today? And without a common narrative as a people we are regulated to us versus them, camps over countries, and personal gain over community advancement.

Now even if you don’t fully buy into Harari’s argument, there is a real danger of a people, community, and yes, domains, when there is no large scale narrative. I see this in an example from history. It is an example that looks at how without a working narrative a once well-respected profession was increasingly seen as obsolete – their tasks able to be learned by everyone not just professionals. The education of this discipline was stagnant, emphasizing theory and concepts over real application. It was a profession with service at its core and had existed for thousands of years.

The discipline I would like to talk about is medicine.

One of my favorite books of all time is John Barry’s “The Great Influenza.” Barry writes about the great swine flu of the early 1900’s. But it really tells the story of the rapid transformation of medicine from an art to a science.

Today we hold doctors in high esteem. We see the field as essential and specialized. Yet that was not always the case, particularly in the late 1800’s. Here are just a few excerpts from Barry’s book to paint a picture:

“Hence Oliver Wendell Holmes, the physician father of the Supreme Court justice, was not much overstating when he declared, ‘I firmly believe that if the whole materie medica, as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind-and all the worse for the fishes.’”

“…in 1835 Harvard’s Jacob Bigelow had argued in a major address that in ‘the unbiased opinion of most medical experts of sound judgement and long experience…the amount of death and disaster in the world would be less, if all disease were left to itself.’”

These opinions and ideas also had more direct consequences, that may sound a bit familiar. First in professional education:

“Charles Eliot…had become Harvard president in 1869. In his first report as president, he declared, ’The whole system of medical education in this country needs thorough reformation. The ignorance and general incompetency of the average graduate of the American medical schools, at the time when he receives the degree which turns him loose upon the community, is something horrible to contemplate.’”

Then in the reputation of the professionals themselves:

“As these ideas spread, as traditional physicians failed to demonstrate the ability to cure anyone, as democratic emotions and anti-elitism swept the nation with Andrew Jackson, American medicine became as wild and democratic as the frontier…Now several state legislatures did away with the licensing of physicians entirely. Why should there be any licensing requirements? Did physicians know anything? Could they heal anyone…As late as 1900, forty-one states licensed pharmacists, thirty-five licensed dentists, and only thirty-four licensed physicians. A typical medical journal article in 1858 asked, ‘To What Cause Are We to Attribute the Diminished Respectability of the Medical Profession in the Esteem of the American Public?’”

So what changed? Medicine developed a new narrative: one based on direct scientific observation. One that placed experimentation and sharing what works above grand theories developed centuries before. Doctors began listening to their patients. Doctors began using chemistry to develop first antiseptics, then anesthesia, then antibiotics, then a host of pharmaceuticals.

Note that the advances to medicine were not easy, straightforward, or strictly ethical. Core gynecological practice was developed with unwilling and anaesthetized slaves. The chemotherapies that were used to treat my cancer were developed from chemical weapons first used in World War I and later through exposing black service men to mustard gas…by the U.S. Army. But medicine is coming to face those ugly realities and developing codes of ethics that are inclusive and enforced.

And so we come to librarianship. A profession that too is adopting a new narrative. A new librarianship that is focused on our communities and the needs of people – not customers or users, but people. And in my confinement I begin to see stories globally of libraries that are not paralyzed by a growing nihilism and not building walls to be oasis and sanctuaries ignoring the concerns of the world around them. They, librarians, are building community hubs and services. They are taking the new narrative of librarianship – one based in both knowledge and action – and healing communities.

I read, for example about Glasgow Libraries in Scotland. They have teamed with a non-profit, Citizens Advice Bureau to directly address homelessness. They not only located experts in homelessness in the libraries, they train library staff to identify and approach the homeless as well. Then the librarians and Bureau staff work together to provide counselling, support and advice to people affected by homelessness.

I first became aware of this idea of public libraries serving as the functional local government from Gina Millsap, director of the Topeka Public Library. Kansas has become notorious for not having a functional state government as the legislature sits in opposition to the governor. This hasn’t stopped Gina and the librarians of Topeka from helping their citizens. They received an award when they set out to tackle illiteracy. They trained librarians in basic literacy instruction. When it became clear the neighborhoods in the greatest need of service was too far from the physical library, they worked with the city bus services to change bus routes. Then they sent librarians into those communities. When demand for the service became too great for the librarians the library trained hundreds of volunteers to work throughout the city.

The idea of libraries becoming direct civil service for their communities can also be seen in Cuyahoga, Ohio. The public librarians work in the local prisons. When it became clear the prisoners didn’t have enough education materials, the library teamed with Overdrive to fix tablets for the incarcerated. When a prisoner was set for release, the librarians set up appointments with their local branch librarian who would help them with housing and other social services. And speaking of prisoners, in Brazil the incarcerated can now read down their prison terms – 4 days for each book, 12 book a year.

I see a narrative of community support and learning in Narcan projects that prepare library staff to deal with opioid overdoses. I see programs, like the recently announced health insurance enrollment initiative of the Public Library Association. Bookmobiles converted to maker spaces to reach rural populations. Smart citizen initiatives across the European Union that demonstrates that there are no Smart Cities, without smart citizens trained in data-centered algorithms that can liberate and oppress.

I also see it very much in South Carolina. I see it in Richland with the difficult conversations where librarians facilitate community dialogs about race. I see it is Spartanburg where librarians are preserving history and making it accessible to their community members. I see it in Union with expanded facilities. I see it at the State Library where they are working with librarians of all types to accommodate people of differing abilities. I see it across South Carolina. Libraries that became areas of refuge and rebuilding in hurricanes and thousand year floods and respond to the horror of racial killing.

I also see it beyond public libraries. Academic libraries are teaming together to preserve the unique histories of communities. College libraries that have started to take on the reality that a number of college students become homeless trying to afford tuition.

Across the globe as politicians argue about immigration, librarians are going to resettlement camps to offer materials, and education, and hope. Librarians that turn citizen anxiety into voter registration drives.

In essence I believe that librarianship has passed from a sort of professional nihilism where we were going to be displaced by Google and Facebook and Wikipedia to a renewed mission to improve society through inspiring learning in our communities. And while this new librarianship, this new knowledge school of thought, is far from universal, it is growing and having a positive impact here in South Carolina, and in Germany, and in Uganda, and China, and Brazil.

This is far from the first time libraries have played a pivotal role in reshaping society. The librarians of ancient Alexandria were close advisors to the kings and queens in Egypt. Librarians kept ancient lessons available to the scholars of what is now Korea and China. Large libraries in the Muslim cities of the Iberian Peninsula helped advance architecture and mathematics and would eventually be the fuel for the Renaissance.

The libraries of Oxford and Cambridge fueled both the enlightenment and the industrial revolution. And those doctors who in the 1800’s found themselves on the verge of collapse? Today medical librarians are supporting the very team that is keeping me alive.

And so, I come back to my opening line. I am here to ask you to save the world. I am asking you to take the new narrative of knowledge and meaning that is displacing the old narratives of efficiency and access to information and spread it beyond your walls.

To be clear, this is a lot to ask.

Gone are the days when every library looked and acted alike. For while we are united by a single mission, how our communities make that vision a reality will be different. The mission of a librarian is to improve society by facilitating knowledge creation in his or her community. Or put more simply, our job is to make the lives of the people we serve, be they parents, lawyers, seniors, professors, gay, black, educated or not, to make their lives better and more meaningful through learning. Learning happens with the pages of a good novel, a comic book, hands on in a maker space, and talking online.

Your job as a librarian is not to offer everything – maker space, Narcan, prison liaison – but those services that best help your community reach its highest aspirations. Your job, as a librarian is to be an active part of a global network of librarians sharing ideas, experimenting, sharing results, and then working with community members to identify which ideas will work locally, and to adapt – not simply adopt – those ideas in your library.

You get collections that meet the needs and the demographics of your locality.

You get instruction and information literacy not based on some universal method – but that starts in local belief and ends in global awareness and is informed by rationalism.

You get engagement with industry and other local government based on the needs of the community, not simply opportunity.

You build smart cities with smart citizens who not only understand the potential benefits of technology and data, but the potential for oppression by algorithms.

You have my pledge that the University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science stands ready to partner with you. We are teaming with libraries such as Charleston to develop new professional development opportunities for all staff. We have heard your worries about currency of curriculum and the fear of creating a sort of monoculture of thinking. We are currently remaking our curriculum as a knowledge school. And if you haven’t looked at our faculty in a while, take a look again. We have retained our best scholars and recruited a new array of amazing scholars over the past three years – nearly half the faculty is new.

I may be confined to Durham and home for this year, but the work of my school, and the work of building a global knowledge school of thought goes on. From Berlin, to Montreal, to Florence, to Mumbai to Columbia librarians are strengthening their communities. They are living up to the values of the field laid down over the past centuries: openness, diversity, learning, access, and engagement. Librarians in this state, this country, and across the world are putting these values into action within their buildings, and going out into the community. We are building strong local networks of schools, universities, businesses, non-profits, faith based organizations, and beyond to ensure every member of a community has the power to learn and find a place in that community. We librarians through SCLA, and ALA, and on Facebook, and in peer networks are connecting together a global corps of librarians and allies into the knowledge school of thinking.

Our communities are hurting, and bewildered, and dividing due to pressures of xenophobia, racism, economic disparity, and politicians who seek power above the greater good. We librarians, you and me, with our partners must tie them back together. We must model how even the most contentious debate can be conducted with respect. We must model how fake news is dispelled with knowledge, not picking a side. We must model that local government supported and overseen by the people, with the people, can be effective and powerful. We must model acting locally and globally for the common good.

Realize that in times of great uncertainty, people do not need a refuge walled off from the outside world, they need to feel empowered to effect that world. And that goes for you and you staff as well. Don’t tell me that your mayor or city council won’t let you, or the people don’t need it happen. In my very short time in South Carolina I have seen a library preserve signs and flags central to the civil rights movement. I have visited a library that was segregated well into the 1970’s now reach out across old mill towns to ensure that library service is available to all. I have seen a library team with a title I school and a Latino organization and the local city council to build a city-wide literacy effort. I have seen a county raise the salary of every worker in a library system to promote equitable labor practice. And I have seen an annual march on the capital by thousands of school children drawing attention to the importance of reading.

My fellow librarians now is your time. The need in our communities is great, but there is a resurgence of trust and funding in libraries. When you go home, bring your staff together and ask how can we convene the community and truly assess their aspirations and dreams. Connect together, not once a year, but every day. Build mentorship networks so no librarian ever feels isolated. Do this if you are in a big library or a small one. In a public library, or academic or special. Build the narratives of your community and celebrate it. Work with the county, and the hospital, and the pizza shop, and the tourist board.

My fellow librarians, let us now save the world.

Thank you.