“We move through places every day that would never have been if not for those who came before us. Our workplaces, where we spend so much time–we often think they began with our arrival. That’s not true.”
– Mitch Albom
I love to think that we are part of a continuum of library service. Librarians of the past performed their very best for the era in which they worked, and then handed off those libraries to the next generation. And our job now is to steward this vital public service, to the very best of our abilities, to ensure the best possible future for libraries. This notion of being part of something evolutionary provides an added sense of purpose and meaning to our work.
And so it was with pleasure that I witnessed two retired BC librarians, both friends and mentors, Nancy Hannum and Percilla Groves, being honoured at the 20th anniversary of GovInfo Day on April 20, 2018. Nancy and Perce were zealous and tireless in their efforts to provide free public access to government information. It was so great to hear them speak about those days, and link their work to today’s context.
Percilla granted me permission to share her speaking notes, “Yesterday, while thinking about today”:
While thinking about today’s event I read the Vancouver Sun. So many stories with a government information angle. In fact when I cut those stories out there was very little left of the paper.
So the first thing I want to say is to librarians in libraries funded by taxes: I hope that lots of people are seeking out the government documents that are the primary background sources for these stories: the Indian Act, the 1969 White Paper on proposed revisions of the Act, The Canadian Constitution, rules for behaviour in the BC Legislature, environmental protection legislation, and elsewhere in the city today (April 20) there is another celebration in progress and there is legislation related to it.
Are those documents easily findable? If not, what are you doing about it?
Are you letting your community know that you can help it find this information?
Librarians have power to affect whether information is available and whether it is presented in an accessible way. We are credible as a profession and we witness how citizens use government information.
An anecdote: the late great librarian and advocate Brian Campbell was part of a campaign aimed at strengthening the provincial government depository programme.
The campaign solicited letters of support from a vast array of citizens interested in the issue journalists, lawyers, non-profit organizations, teachers, researchers… With his stack of letters of support for a comprehensive depository programme, Brian met with a politician of the day who remarked that the only person missing from the support for the depository cause was the Pope. Undaunted Brian responded “I think I can get Remi di Roo to write something”.
Remi di Roo was the bishop of the diocese of Vancouver Island and at the time the best known Roman Catholic in the Province.
So, when you see that something is missing from the public record, or not easily accessed, it’s up to you to get it. Evaluate who shares your interest and enlist their support. But don’t wait for a crisis. Create your ‘circle of care’ in the course of your daily professional life.
A lot depends on it.
Inspiration and connection from the past, with a visible thread to the present. For libraries, it’s nice to know that our goals and our reasons for being have stayed the same from generation to generation.
Mitch Albom, the American author, is quite correct. Just as Nancy and Percilla built on the work of those who were before them, today’s new librarians are building on what was done by Nancy and Percilla and hundreds of others.
Nancy and Perce, for all that you have done to provide essential access to public information, and for inspiring generations of librarians, we thank you.