Americans are mobile by nature, and American academics are even more so. Simply to change jobs most of us would need to relocate to another city, if not another state. This mobility has been on my mind recently because this year, for the first time, I became significantly involved in my local library organization. It is the first time I have felt moved to become locally involved because it is also the first time I have been in a job and a town where I can picture myself happily remaining long-term, even forever.
I’m “borrowing” this post title from a fascinating book I read a number of years ago by Lucy Lippard, an art critic who wrote about the ways that we construct our identities from our surroundings. She writes:
Our personal relationships to history and place form us, as individuals and groups, and in reciprocal ways we form them. Land, history, and culture meet in a multicentered society that values place but cannot be limited to one view.
Many of us underestimate the reciprocal relationship between ourselves our our places, and relocate often enough that we lack the opportunity or desire to gain a deep knowledge of the place where we live NOW. This applies to everything around us: the landscape, the people and friendships we form, our local history, and the organizations to which we dedicate our time and skill.
Participation in a national organization such as ACRL is extremely valuable — I would be the last person to argue otherwise — but participation in a local library association is arguably even more important. On the local level we gain essential historical knowledge of our place; we develop relationships with the people who keep the libraries of all types in our area running; we learn the ways of the institutional, regional, and state boards that determine our funding. Most importantly, on the local level we can share the skills and knowledge we have gained from our national involvement to empower and improve the libraries in our region. We can collaborate and build our local communities together.
So perhaps my blog post has turned treatise, but I have come to see local participation as a privilege and a duty. I have been fortunate in the opportunities I have been offered within ALA and ACRL, and will continue to enjoy my national participation. Yet we are also physical people living in a physical places, and our identities are being formed around us. “Where are you from?,” asks everyone we meet at our national conferences.
What I say to that question is “Boise State University in Idaho.” But in truth my answer varies by the day, for each day I learn more about what it means to live and work as a librarian in Idaho, a place unique from any other. In our globalized world, living in the local is a whole new way of being, and one that brings unexpected rewards.