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Answers to The Citizen’s questions of Library Trustee candidates:
The library is very busy, not just loaning materials, but also serving as a community center and a resource for specific groups in town. How would you prioritize these roles? The library’s primary purpose is to meet the information needs of the surrounding community. So, in that sense, the library’s main role is as a community center. Serving as a resource to specific groups is a way of defining that role, and it is through the loaning of materials that the library, in part, fulfills it. Of course, the library does far more than just loan materials; it hosts a cornucopia of activities and provides a plethora of services that make it a vital part of the Bedford community. But the bottom line, in my view, is fostering lifelong literacy and learning. Therefore, when faced with tough decisions about the allocation of library resources, I’ll ask myself what has the greatest potential to provide most educational benefit to the largest number of Bedford residents.
Do you have a dream for the library if you were unfettered by space and resources? I’d create a Bedford Athenaeum; a comfortable and cozy well-appointed space ideally suited for reading, relaxation, research, and reflection. There’d be a daily mix of lectures, workshops, forums, and seminars with state-of-the-art technology enabling remote access. In many ways, this vision is already pretty close to reality. Our library has an inviting ambiance where a number of engaging and exciting activities take place. But, of course, with unlimited space and resources, we could hire more speakers and create an even larger stock of meeting and study rooms.
Final campaign statement: I spend a lot of time in Bedford’s library which is not surprising given my upbringing. I was raised by an academic in a house of books which I mean both literally and figuratively. Not only did my mother possess an extensive personal library but also she instilled in me a love of learning from a young age. Every summer I participated in our local library’s summer reading program, and I’d accompany my mother when she did library research. My training as a librarian and my subsequent work in libraries has refined my understanding of the institution. For one thing, I’ve learned that it’s not all about books; there are digital databases, electronic resources, and most significantly, dedicated professionals available to help navigate this virtual terrain.
When I was in library school during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, much of the digital world we now take for granted was relatively new. It was a heady period full of possibility and peril. Depending on whom you asked, it was either a new beginning or the end of the library profession. Some rejoiced as the World Wide Web ushered in an era of free, open, and unfettered access to information. Others shuddered at the prospect of a digital wild west wrought by the abandonment of rules and regulations. And, many worried about worsening inequality as people of color, the poor, and those living in rural communities were left offline and locked behind a Digital Divide. To top it all off, there was also the threat of the so-called Y2K virus set to shut down the world’s computers at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000.
Fast forward a couple of decades and much of this seems laughably quaint. There wasn’t a global computer crash at the turn of the 21st century; availability on the Web doesn’t necessarily mean free and open access, and librarians didn’t become obsolete. However, some of the concerns expressed back then still have resonance today. Indeed, with social media we’ve witnessed just how quickly false information can spread once it’s released into the digital wild. And, while many of us suffer from information overload, there are still those for whom information is in short supply because of a lack of a computer or Internet access.
Whether through helping to bridge the Digital Divide by providing Internet access or guarding against the dissemination of fake news by vetting materials before circulating, the library has a critical role to play in these and similar issues. Equally important, the library can teach information literacy skills so that in a paraphrase of the old proverb about learning to fish, patrons aren’t simply given reliable sources, they are shown how to locate and evaluate sources for themselves. I have gotten a lot out of my own experiences as a patron of the Bedford Free Public Library. I’d love an opportunity to give something back by serving as a library trustee. I hope you vote for me on March 9th.
Letters to the Editor supporting Gyasi Burks-Abbott
Gyasi Burks-Abbott’s PSA on Bedford TV