By: Tommy Vinh Bui
I rise from the reference desk and make my hourly rounds around the library. Shuffling my feet through the stacks and from shelf to shelf. All’s calm and only that low frequency hum of people quietly reading pervades the air. I make my way to our newspapers and periodicals and see the usual cadre of information-seekers. Thumbs darkened with smeared ink and outsized dailies contorted in varying angles and folds.
This corner of the library is reliably populated. Our variety of newspapers are the items most crinkled from patron to patron. Patrons pining for information from what the weather holds in store for Cincinnati on Thursday to what movies are playing at midnight somewhere on the westside. It’s the go-to for being in the know in our local little corner of Los Angeles County.
It gets this librarian thinking about the intertwined objectives of the two august institutions of librarianship and journalism. The intersections of the two industries are significant. The fourth estate of journalism and the beacon of light and knowledge that are libraries working hand in hand to produce a well-informed and discerning society. Both fields trade in carefully sourced and vetted facts as a mainstay and both take on an unmoving position of neutrality to successfully serve their citizenry. Blazing a path together in tandem toward that common goal of a population that can consume information mindfully and invoke considered thought and public dialogue on a number of important community issues.
Libraries have long been a haven and trustworthy source of community information. An epicenter of knowledge that can help patrons make informed decisions and guide them to other reliable information and credible and primary resources. It’s a need that the library has historically addressed ably. And little uplifts a community more markedly than empowering patrons to seek and research issues that effect them independently. Basically transforming regular citizens into becoming their own clear-thinking journalists and best advocates for themselves.
Librarians and journalists tackle the same challenges and it’s no surprise that the two fields have found natural allies in one another. Both institutions champion the notion of equity in access and intellectual freedoms within their respective mandates. And collaboration is key when one falls short of their charge to serve the community. In this digital age of divisive discourse and polarizing punditry, libraries remain relatively unscathed from the melee and consequently uncompromised enough to help patrons navigate the disorienting detritus of misinformation and the flotsam of news overload. Libraries today are working closely with journalists and news outlets to promote the virtues of media literacy to the youth and imbue patrons with the tools to identify false information. Educating communities with the ability and incisive eye to not be too swayed by convincing but possibly ill-contrived pseudo-reportage that is all too common a staple of social media is a core objective of libraries. Beyond providing accountable resources and access to verifiable information, libraries also foster a sense of useful and positive civic engagement and encourage the youth to become veritable journalists in their own right and pursue good information-gathering behavior and embark on reporting projects within their own community. It’s empowerment at its best and most forthright.
I tip-toe away from the newspaper section of our library and wend my way back to the reference desk. Where I crack open the local daily I managed to commandeer from the stacks. I lean back into my chair fitfully but comforted full-well knowing what’s currently transpiring in that particular corner of the library.
Democracy remains robust. Our citizens compelled and engaged. And the civic fabric of the community unyielding under the strain of the hurly-burly of today’s digital discord.
Tommy Vinh Bui is a paragraph-peddler hailing from the bonnie barrios of Pacoima. He has an assortment of lugubrious-sounding degrees and was a Peace Corps volunteer in a dusty and distant land long ago. Tommy has an unswerving interest in intellectual freedom and his fingertips and keyboard reflect this. He may have impulse control problems.