So, this week I had several different ideas, starting points for a reflection on the transparent library. That changed on Friday:
A murder happened Friday across the street from my children’s school, with a husband killing his wife, and the younger daughter of the family is a classmate of my son’s. So, because I knew they would hear about it once they went to school tomorrow, today I had to explain to my children that a little girl they knew just lost her mother and it was because her father shot her and killed her.
Having people get upset about your non-transparent approach to weeding books seemed like an inconsequential problem all of a sudden.
You’re “out there” whether you want to be or not.
(Casey and Stephens, June 2007)
I really did not want to be “out there” on this. I did not want to have to be transparent that a classmate’s mother was dead, allegedly killed by her father. I couldn’t think Friday and Saturday about much else except what I would say to them. But it was out there whether I wanted it to be or not. I knew it would be talked about at school on Monday, possibly quite a lot, and they might hear even wilder stories than what actually did happen (which of course is bad enough). I knew I could not let them walk into that unprepared. But the task of being transparent seemed dreadful and impossible.
The culture of perfect
(Casey and Stephens, April 2007)
For parents, it is not so much the culture of perfect, as the temptation of it, the siren song of perfect, luring you to the rocks with false beauty. We may accept a lack of perfection in any other aspect of our lives, but the idea that we can’t fix everything, can’t make it all right, can’t make it perfect, seems unbearable when it comes to our children. How could I allow them to see that something cruel and unfair like this could happen? And how could I not have the perfect thing to say about it when it did?
I love Agatha Christie books. I have a favorite passage in the mystery The Hollow. A character asks Hercule Poirot if he will someday tell the child of a murder victim the truth about what happened to his father. She is horrified when he answers that he will tell the truth. She thinks the son should be protected from the truth. Poirot’s response struck a deep chord with me:
You do not understand. To you it is unbearable that anyone should be hurt. But to some minds there is something more unbearable still—not to know. You heard the poor woman just a little while ago say: “Terry always has to know.” To the scientific mind, truth comes first. Truth, however bitter, can be accepted, and woven into a design for living. (Christie, 1946, p.257)
I wanted to become a librarian because I always have to know. Because I like to help others to know. I love my children, and I want to protect them. But even more than wanting to protect them, and not wanting to have to tell them, in the end I find the idea of lying to them unbearable. I want them to be able to trust me, to know that if something scares them, I will not lie to them, I am strong enough to tell them the worst truth and to hear whatever truth they have to tell me. Transparency is an act of love—when it matters most I will not lie to you. Opaqueness is an act of distance, and even of disrespect. In his post “Earning Trust|The User Experience” Schmidt (2013) writes, “On a broader level, libraries need to back up the big claims often found in mission statements.” If I tell my children to trust me, I need to be trustworthy, even when it is really hard.
Especially when it is really hard.
They cried when I told them. They asked what would happen to their schoolmate. I said I didn’t know but that people were taking care of both girls (the girls are in protective custody and the police are keeping their whereabouts confidential for now).
My younger son asked me “Why would he do that?” I said that was a really, really good question, and I wished I had a good answer. I said that some people are very troubled and lash out in very bad ways. That they have not learned to argue the way grownups should argue, with their words, and not with hurting. That sexism means there are some men who feel like their wives or girlfriends aren’t really “people,” but are possessions that they can hurt or destroy if they want to. And that if you have a gun, it is very, very easy to hurt someone in a way that can’t be fixed.
I felt very helpless. Then I remembered this quote from Mister Rogers.
So then I told them that although this was a very terrible thing, they should know that there were a lot of people helping. That policemen, social workers, teachers, and extended family were all going to help those girls who have lost both parents. That maybe in a few days, we would learn more and find out a way we could help them too.
I said that terrible things sometimes happen, but there are always the people who run to help. And you can be a helper, too. If a friend at school is scared or upset, you can be a friend. You can encourage them to ask their mom or dad or teacher or principal about what is upsetting them. Look for the helpers. And be a helper.
“There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy.”
― Joseph Pulitzer
When we are opaque, and not transparent, the problems are invisible. Domestic violence is a crime of opaqueness. We don’t see the victims, until it all bursts forth, terribly.
If you are not transparent, you damage trust. And whether it’s about weeding books or something worse, damaging trust breaks connections between people. At their best, librarians can be among the helpers too, because libraries and information are about truth. With truth, and not lies, we can help.
Casey, M., & Stephens, M. (2007, April 1). The transparent library: Introducing the Michaels. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2007/04/ljarchives/the-transparent-library-introducing-the-michaels/
Casey, M., & Stephens, M. (2007, June 1). The transparent library: Living out loud. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2007/06/future-of-libraries/the-transparent-library-living-out-loud/
Christie, A. (1946). The Hollow. New York: Harper Collins.
Schmidt, A. (2013, November 5). Earning trust [Web log post]. The User Experience. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/11/opinion/aaron-schmidt/earning-trust-the-user-experience/