Continuing the week-long observance of National Library Week, I’m writing a longer blog post/interview with Sarah Dale, a long-time librarian at the Lincoln City Libraries in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. She currently works at the Bennett Martin Branch. There’s a tradition of librarians in the Dale family, as Sarah’s father, John, served as the Assistant Director of LCL.

After the 2016 election, many public library staff began 2017 deeply concerned that the new administration in the White House would issue orders and pursue policy that contradicts libraries’ core values of diversity and inclusion. The Public Library Association has pledged to respond. The report states, “The current political atmosphere will significantly affect public libraries in 2017, presenting both major challenges and opportunities to do what public libraries uniquely do—provide equal access to information, support intellectual freedom, and offer neutral spaces to bring disparate voices together in change-making conversations.”

Kathryn Schleich: What do you feel are some of the opportunities these challenges might bring? Have you witnessed any examples of ways the Lincoln City Libraries are addressing some of these issues?

Sarah Dale: I think this year has seen a continuation of the sorts of things we’ve been doing to put those values of diversity and inclusion. Some examples from a *recent set of reports at Lincoln City Libraries:

Participation in a Community Café at Huntington Elementary School for a discussion with neighborhood families who discussed, “communities to which they belong, what those communities value, and how communities can be improved.” Library staff joined a group of attendees predominantly from Mexico who had their discussion in Spanish”.

Staff “did story time training for 15 Family Services Staff that lead some of the after-school Community Learning Centers”.

Staff participated in Boo at the Zoo, hosted the African American History month read-in, hosted Art Lab for teens, and led book group at Legacy Estates for seniors.

KS: Public Library Administration President Felton Thomas, Jr. said in a November 2016 statement, “Inclusiveness is a core value of the Public Library Association. The public library has an unparalleled ability to bring people and knowledge together, especially in times of uncertainty and division.” It sounds like the Lincoln library system is doing an excellent job of serving a diverse and inclusive population.

SD: We’re fortunate in Lincoln that despite pressures from the more conservative business-focused associations, there is very strong community support for the libraries.

KS: The Twin Cities library system and various programs are also strongly supported by the community, which is one reason I love living here.

Let’s talk about the prevalence of “fake news”. It’s become clear with the indictment of 13 Russian hackers, that a lot of people were taken in. How are libraries combatting this problem?

SD: We’ve learned a lot about how sketchy news articles were created and disseminated in 2016. One thing we learned, I believe, was that much of it was done not out of any sense of loyalty to an idea, but rather for profit. When you take that element out of the picture, as is the case with libraries, I think people correspondingly have more faith in the information we provide.

KS: Even well-educated people get their news from social media sources despite the potential for disinformation and propaganda being so great. In your opinion, why is that?

SD: Because it’s easy. Because we’re already there. I do think 2016 was a real education for a lot of folks, and I get the sense that there are people more accustomed to having to vet their sources now. While the library isn’t in the business of being a proponent of one news source over another, we do make sure that the resources we provide online are of a high quality and are from reputable sources.

KS: It often seems as though an “Us vs. Them” mentality is taking over the country, increasing the contentious divide. Any thoughts as to why that may be?

SD: I think that speaks a lot to the timing. I think America was in a position in 2016 to respond to populist messages, both Right and Left. It’s a cycle that rides of the waves of politics and economics and at whatever point the masses feel they are being gouged by the elite, then Populist leaders find success.

KS: Wrapping up, what are some of the issues facing libraries in 2018?

SD: I think one of our biggest challenges is not just keeping up with all the potential resources we can use to get information to folks, but then keeping our communities abreast of the resources we offer so that they understand and support our mission.

Besides working as a librarian, Sarah is also an author of science fiction. Her Zodiac Cusp Kids series will begin with Something Wicked, scheduled for release in May 2018 through Burning Willow Press.

*Reports cited are from the October 2016 report found here:

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