I sent the following message this morning to the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the iSchool here at South Carolina.
I am writing you from my office in Davis Hall. It is the morning of January 11 – the first day of classes for the Spring ’21 semester. Right now, I’m the only one here, a result of the reality around the pandemic. This semester we have no in person classes – though we will be setting up a regular in-person undergraduate joint study session soon. This semester we continue to adapt to a global pandemic.
I also have to admit, that after the events of January 6 in the U.S. Capitol Building, I was not anxious to have a government building unattended. It is frankly horrifying that in classes where we are studying the global realities of the pandemic, the historic Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice, and the effects of the economic realities of the pandemic on communities, we must add armed insurrection. And yet, here we are. Our faculty, staff, students, and alumni are suffering and attempting to come to terms with a world that seems out of control.
In college I had a professor who taught an evening class. He said how he always loved teaching evening courses in the Spring because they would begin the semester in darkness, and by the end light would fill the classroom as summer approached. We too can see ourselves at the beginning of this semester in the darkness of winter, and we are seeking out the light. However, it won’t be a matter of simply waiting for the Earth to turn on its axis, but rather through action. We bring about the light by embracing our mission at the iSchool: to bring meaning and justice to communities through information and knowledge.
We do this through our teaching. We share the skills and foundations for how organizations use information resources in serving people in ethical ways. We teach librarians, web designers, business analysts, future faculty, and future information professionals. This teaching, really a partnership of learning, continues to mesh skills with perspective and highlighting all of our commitment to a more just and equitable society.
We do this through research, discovering new aspects of the human condition in a world of connection, data, and information resources.
We do this in our K-12 classrooms as school librarians empowering our youth with critical literacy skills and a sense of passion for continuous learning.
We do this in public institutions – public libraries, government departments, and as citizens engaging in the democratic process – by ensuring transparency, by building knowledge platforms empowering citizens to find meaning, and by constantly refreshing, reifying, and reinvesting in democracy itself. Democracy, as we know, doesn’t live in documents and laws, but in the common commitment of the governed to seek out the community good.
We do this in universities and archives. We not only preserve the past, but ensure that a living past is not forgotten and informs our future. We provide vital support to scholars and faculty taking on the pandemic, on issues of systemic racism, and inventing new technologies.
We do this in business, academia, schools, colleges, government, and in our neighborhoods.
This past week, and indeed this past year, have seen dark times. They are getting darker. COVID cases are rising, innocent Black citizens still face unequal justice, our fellow Americans and my fellow citizens of the world are losing jobs and the security of a home. It is easy, and even understandable, that in the face of overwhelming challenges we feel lost, or hopeless, or alone. You are not alone. For 50 years this school has sought to build and empower a community – a network of professionals dedicated to bringing light to the darkness of ignorance.
Through collections, and computers, and social media, and data mining, we have been part of a half century preparation for just this time. We send out a kickass chicken into the most under-resourced schools of the state to encourage literacy. We manage libraries – engine of innovation and service in San Francisco, Vermont, Santa Barbara, Charleston, Columbia, Lexington, Oxford and throughout the world, and we will continue to do so. We have alumni in DC and insurance agencies, state government, and startups that are part of a network committed to a better tomorrow. We are woven throughout the fabric of the nation, and now is the time for us to pull together and bring the light.
If you need support, encouragement, or simply someone to listen, please reach out. And if you have the strength, reach out to your fellow students, your fellow alumni, and show them we are together.
I know we will have a strong and successful semester. That, however, is not enough. We must ensure that we have a strong and successful nation. Let us bring the light.