Tag Archives: PEN America

Cancel Culture?

12 May
Beach chairs on a deck

I keep a note going each week with thoughts and ideas for this space. For some reason, earlier in the week I wrote down, “Cancelled meetings – what does this say? Apathy?” I don’t recall having any meetings cancelled this week, so I’m not sure what prompted the note. I do know, however, that I’ve had standing meetings in the past that often got cancelled. And after awhile, I’d wonder what, if anything, I was supposed to feel about that. I’m certainly not against cancelling a meeting rather than wasting everyone’s time if there’s nothing on the agenda, but I also wonder why one would feel compelled to schedule a standing meeting if s/he/they found it so easy to call off. I’d feel slighted, at times. I’d feel as if whatever I was doing and scheduled to report didn’t really matter. So why do it? Hence the thought of apathy. For whatever reason, I jotted this down. (For the record, my supervisor did cancel a meeting with me yesterday, but this note was jotted down well before that. And that meeting was called off for good reason.)

On Monday, a meeting that did not get cancelled was the annual conference of the Massachusetts Library Association. It was held in Falmouth, MA this year and as you can see by the picture here, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. Even better, the sessions were interesting enough to pull people inside on such a day. That says something! The session that I led on using creative freedom to build empathy and justice went pretty well. People were engaged and we had some thoughtful discussion. We also practiced some activities to help us both think more creatively and, in turn, more empathetically. I learned a lot putting the session together and was glad for the opportunity to lead it. It was also great to spend some time with librarians from other realms, i.e., not health sciences librarians. There were some academics, but mostly public librarians in attendance. There was much on the agenda about intellectual freedom and the fight that public and school librarians are having to fight now against insane stabs at censorship. Bless these folks on the frontlines.

The afternoon keynote on the day that I attended was given by Tommi Laitio, the inaugural Bloomberg Innovation Fellow for Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation at Johns Hopkins University. His talk was entitled, Learning Ground for Convivencia. Convivencia is a Spanish word that came into use in the Middle Ages to refer to the interplay between the religious, social, and cultural practices of Christians, Jews, and Muslims at that time. Laitio said that the closest English word is conviviality, but feels that this word doesn’t quite capture the sense of shared cultures and social practices that he’s studying in his research. Per the blurb on the Center’s website: “Laitio is currently conducting research on the topic of Partnerships for Parks and Libraries, which includes case studies in the following cities: Amsterdam, Netherlands; Fortaleza, Brazil; Los Angeles, CA; Mecklenburg County, NC; and Philadelphia, PA. His research explores the idea of conviviality and seeks to identify institutional and relational practices that recognize friction as a natural state of affairs.”

During the Q&A portion, Laitio was asked his thoughts on how libraries can balance friction with their charge to be safe places. I loved his reply, “I want libraries not to be safe places, per se, but rather to be BOLD places.” I feel this sentiment gets right to the heart of one of our greatest societal problems right now, i.e., our fractured state. We live in our own bubbles, communing almost solely with others who think like we do, believe what we do, value what we value, are educated as we’re educated, vote as we vote. That’s not a safe space. People arguing (in a healthy manner) their positions and beliefs, even passionately, is an essential part of societal discourse. And we’ve lost it in the United States. (Interesting, this very topic came up in my session.) We need the friction of differences. We like to speak about the importance of diversity, but too often forget that diversity can be really uncomfortable. And discomfort does not, in and of itself, mean unsafe. So let’s be BOLD. Let’s create spaces that welcome differing points of views, even, no especially, when they counter our own.

Laitio is from Finland and he shared with us that in his home country, libraries rank second only to drinking water as necessities for society. (Juxtaposed with the first keynote, The Evolving Movement to Ban Books and Censor Education, by Jonathan Friedman, Director, Free Expression and Education Programs, PEN America, I was once again envious of life in some real developed country.) Along with outlining his project and discoveries to date, Laitio spoke of Oodi, the Central Library of Helsinki. I was gobsmacked. Truly. Even now, when I visit the website again. This beautiful place at the heart of everything – culture, politics, literacy, physical and mental well-being – is the library. It got me to thinking of what amazing collaborations we can do when we expand our ideas of what libraries are, even libraries in academic medical centers. It was a great talk!

My last jotted-down-note was the website for Magazine Art, the collection of advertising in magazines throughout history, brought to us by the good people at the Internet Archive. From cars and trucks to household items to tobacco products and more… it’s a treasure trove of materials to remind us of the products we’ve used over the years and how they’ve been sold to us. Lots of fun.

I’m off to Detroit on Monday for the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones, taking in all of the great content, and visiting a new city. I’ve got a list of things I want to see: Tigers ballgame, Motown Museum, and the HandleBar. And hot dogs. I always look for the best hot dogs.

I’ll be blogging for MLA during the conference, but will be back here with a personal recap when I return. Until then…