“Libraries are What Unite Us”: A Conversation with Dan Rather About His Book “What Unites Us”

Advocacy, Authors, Intellectual Freedom Issues
Cover of the book What Unites Us: Reflection of Patriotism

On April 8th, 2021, United for Libraries hosted a virtual talk with Dan Rather as part of their celebration of National Library Week. Dan Rather is a journalist, newscaster, and the author of What Unites Us: Reflections of Patriotism which was the focus of the discussion between him and Donna Seaman, editor of adult books at Booklist. This virtual event took place on Take Action for Libraries Day, which was not a happy accident, as Rather in his book and during this interview emphasises the value libraries bring not only to their communities but to our democracy as a whole. 

When asked about the role libraries play in sustaining our democracy, Rather points out the vital role libraries play in giving citizens the tools to be informed participants in our democracy. He shared an anecdote about his parents. His parents did not have a lot of money and therefore did not have access to higher education, but they did have access to the newspaper and the library. His father told him that the newspaper is the poorman’s university and the library is the poorman’s graduate school. With these two resources his parents were able to educate themselves and become the informed citizens they needed to be in order to effectively participate in our democracy. He also discussed the important role libraries play in combating misinformation and disinformation which seem to be circulating at an all time in this country. 

He repeatedly pointed out throughout the discussion that libraries have kept up with 21st century technology, stating that anyone who thinks that libraries are obsolete has not been in a library recently. He also recognized that libraries need resources, particularly in the form of funding, in order to continue to keep up with 21st century technology. He cited this need for resources as the main reason why Congress should pass the Build American Libraries Act

Because of his background in journalism, Rather was asked to give his thoughts on the state of the press. He said that a free and independent press is the beating heart of our democracy and he feels that overall the American people believe in a free and independent press. He also touched on the attacks on the free and independent press that we have seen recently in our country. He has observed attacks on the press because people who seek power seek to divide us, and a very easy way to do that is to blame the press and accuse them of spreading misinformation. This brought him again to the role libraries play in the fight against misinformation. He pointed out that libraries are the best examples of curated knowledge. He said that if you are looking for hard facts, you’ll find them in a library. He shared a story of how he used a library and librarian expertise when working on a story about the lack of strong zoning laws in Hoston, TX. He wanted to better understand zoning laws so he went to his local library and the librarian there helped him find the materials he needed to get a better understanding of zoning laws in Hoston. 

The conversation then shifted to the importance of science literacy. Rather starts off by pointing out that the founders of this country realized the importance of science in the success of our country and that we have strived to be leaders in science from that point on. He continued on to say that libraries are the primary source of accurate information about science in any and every community. He also expressed his concern over the growing anti-science sentiments in this country. He feels that this anti-science movement has risen out of fear of science rooted in a lack of understanding. His solution for combating this anti-science movement is knowledge, and of course the library. He suggests that everyone go to the library and find some introductory science resources to increase their understanding of science. He also points out that science is not the only thing that people can learn from libraries, stating that libraries can also deepen our understanding of art, which is the sister of science and equally as important a force as science in uniting us as a country.

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