This year, I was asked to write a professional mission statement, and this is it. I highly recommend writing one, it clarified my purpose and made me feel like a warrior princess. As you resolve to rock in 2015, an articulated vision can only help you move forward.
Bill Clinton once said that literacy is not a luxury. This has been my personal and professional motto throughout my career. To survive and thrive, a democracy needs a literate populace. This is not just language literacy. Digital literacy, emotional literacy, and social and cultural literacies are crucial to building a peaceful, diverse, and just global community. We do not have the luxury of raising test takers. We must, to succeed as a nation and a world, grow conscientious, compassionate, critical thinkers. The way we support and upraise marginalized and underrepresented children is to show them their own lives reflected in literature and history books. The way we teach children of privilege to think outside their protected lives and work for social justice is to expose them, through literature, to compassionate and accurate portrayals of children with lives different from their own. There is no child in America today who does not need access to well-written, fascinating texts about global lives and experiences.
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” — James Baldwin
No matter the background of a child, there is something in their life they aren’t sure how to face, or something happening to a friend they aren’t sure how to support. Coming out as gay, growing up with a sibling on the autism spectrum, hiding a parent’s alcoholism, losing a loved one, divorce, bullying, eating disorders – at some point in every child’s life, something happens that makes them feel alone, unable to cope, and afraid. If I can connect a child to a book that shows them they are not alone, I have done a great good.
Science tells us that reading fiction improves brain function and helps readers build empathy. Oscar Wilde said, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” Reading forges us, and reshapes us, saves us and allows us to become things we didn’t know we were meant to be. When we read, we become able to see choices for our souls that we could not have understood existed on our own. We are given the courage to make those choices because they have been made before, by fictional characters who are actually our deepest selves. My job is to put the right book in the hands of the right child at the right time, to facilitate this transformative experience.
Librarianship is social justice, art therapy and alchemy. It is a calling, our trust in the higher power of literature and our relationship with the reader a sacred trust, an act of covenant and faith.