November 26, 2016

Words Matter

Hate. Love. Racism. Equality. Fear. Human Rights. Sexism. Peace. Xenophobia. Unity.
     
These words are everywhere lately.  Spoken or read, each singular word elicits clear emotional responses.  Now take each word and connect it to the next and the next and the next and read or speak it slowly as if it were a single sentence.  I just did that and it left me feeling breathless, with a jumbled mess of conflicting emotions coursing through me.  Once again, I am reminded of the powerful effect of words.  Words can build or destroy.  Become a weapon or an olive branch.  A bullet or a healing salve.  Words can hurt or heal.  We are each responsible and held accountable for the words we choose.  What do you want your words to do? 

In the days since Neill Public Library re-opened, I have listened to words more than I have spoken them.  Patron after patron, parent, business owner, educator, visiting student, faculty spouse, have shared with me their recent realization that Neill Public Library is their identified safe space within their community.  Here they feel welcome and respected, safe to be who they are without fear of judgment, persecution, or retaliation.  They find staff friendly and kind, delivering the right balance of care and attention to each individual, to every individual.  To use one patron’s words, “The library doesn’t care what I believe in, who I love, or how much money I make.  Here, everyone has the same rights and everyone receives the same service.”  Yet another reason why having a vibrant public library is essential to its community.  Especially these days.

I am humbled by the words from our patrons.  Humbled and grateful to be a part of something so positive and important in our community.  I am exceedingly proud to be part of a library staff that works hard to ensure their actions reflect the library’s core values of providing an open environment with equal access for all. 

Open.  Equal.  Access for all.  Public libraries take this charge very seriously.  We embrace a wide diversity of ideas, information, stories, and opinions.  We build collections and offer programs that reflect the broad interests of our community. We believe a well-informed citizenry is a cornerstone of democracy, so we create opportunities for patrons to gain knowledge, pursue understanding, and engage in peaceful discourse.  Our policies, procedures, and practices are rooted in defense of your civil liberties, supporting your right to use the library’s resources and services, and protecting your privacy and confidentiality as you do so.    Done right, the result is a dynamic, word-filled library environment responsive to its community that feels safe and welcoming to all.

Feeling safe and welcome are among the fundamental needs of every human being, regardless of political affiliation, religious or non-religious belief, financial ability, gender, or sexual orientation.  Yet each of us has the ability through the words we choose and the actions we take to either fill this need for our fellow neighbor, or deny it. Again, what do you want your words to do?

Imagine how much better our world could be if we each chose love over hate, knowledge over assumption, compassion over judgment.  It starts with the words we choose.  It’s asking a lot.  Or is it?

Joanna Bailey
Director, Neill Public Library
509.338.3252


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