Following up on yesterday’s great post about handling anxiety in our current social climate, I wanted to talk a bit more on situating ourselves as information professionals in light of recent events. Since the 2016 election, the library and information science world has been ablaze with increased focus on our role as activists. On one hand, the article, “Freedom of Information: Libraries in the Age of Trump” from Bitch Media, echoes a common call to action, tackling the notion of libraries becoming obsolete in the digital age and highlighting the ways in which librarians are needed to be activists, now more than ever in a time of “post-truth.” I have also been reflecting on another piece that appeared around the same time, “Information Literacy Won’t Save Us; or, Fight Fascism, Don’t Create A LibGuide,” by Ian J.Clark on Infoism. The article provides a different perspective on this inclination to focus on literacy and problematizes the ways that the “post-truth” narrative can obscure some of the fundamental social issues at play in the world. Focusing on information literacy implies that people just do not “know the truth,” when instead it maybe better to look toward history to understand the particular contemporary and prevalent perspectives that have been deemed as “untrue.”
This tension about how we position ourselves in a “post-truth” society has been at the forefront of my mind this week, in the wake of the recent events in Charlottesville. Coupled with the ongoing investigation of Russian collusion in our 2016 election and the president’s recent comments about North Korean aggression, I have felt an overwhelming need to act—to educate, protest, share information, and try to help others navigate the current social landscape through my position as an information professional. But as a historian by training, I find a great deal of value in the point Clark makes—by separating ourselves from those with whom we disagree and delegitimizing their point of view as something other than the truth, we overlook the recognizable ways that our society has allowed ideas like white supremacy to exist and flourish in 2017.
The hate spread through terrorist actions this weekend in Charlottesville should not be the standard to which we hold ourselves and our country—for me, it certainly is not. Our role as activists is an important cornerstone in our field, and there is so much that we can do to help others frame and better understand the world around us. The ALA, for example, provides a great resource on Intellectual Freedom issues and different ways we can all contribute. We should continue to educate, to provide access to information and resources to those we serve, and to speak out against rhetoric and hate speech. We must protect our rights to freedom of speech and intellectual freedom. However, we also have a responsibility not to tell others what to think, but to provide full context—we need to do more than speak about why those whom we oppose are wrong; we must seriously grapple with those who have other views. I saw echoes of this need throughout the weekend on Twitter, with many people pushing back against the #ThisIsNotUs that spread around in the initial aftermath of the White Supremacist march.
These responses highlight the importance of engaging with and understanding the past as a way to frame our understanding of current realities. There are no easy fixes, no actions that provide the solutions that many want; and nothing that makes what happened in Charlottesville any less real. Because the danger with thinking about ourselves in a “post-truth” society, or by responding to Charlottesville by saying #ThisIsNotUs is that it is us—so let’s talk about it, grapple with it, and work toward creating an “us” that provides a safe and inclusive society, for all of us.