Monday, November 16, 2009

Think local to change the global

Life is really an amazing series of serendipitous moments! Recently, on the way home from work, I listened to Facing the Future, a broadcast of a lecture by Prince Charles on the struggles of managing the mess that we have created with our planet. I was so enamoured with his eloquence that I will jump at the first chance to see one of his speaking engagements.

But that, alone, is not what got me thinking...
It was his profound message.

I was captivated by his statement: could we better empower all sorts of communities to create a much more participative economic model that safeguards their identity, cohesion and diversity – one that makes a clear distinction between the maintenance of Nature’s capital reserves and the income it produces? That is the challenge we face, it seems to me – to see Nature’s capital and her processes as the very basis of a new form of economics and to engage communities at the grass roots to put those processes first. If we can do that, then we have an approach that acts locally by thinking globally, just as Nature does – all parts operating locally to establish the coherence of the whole. (HRH, para 39)

Having just posted an article, here, discussing the problems with association memberships, and suggesting that we must think "locally", I was intrigued to hear him say that we must act locally to, "establish coherence of the whole". We hear this message of "thinking" locally with more frequency. We hear it when we discuss changing our attitudes towards how we acquire our food. We hear it when we discuss the evolution of our health, education, and transportation systems. We feel it when we watch all of those horrifying Discovery Channel documentaries about the fate of the human race. This message, like a system of small waterways, is converging into one major river system that represents our need to realign of our thinking. We need to reconnect with nature. We need to reconnect with our communities.

As I mulled all of this over, I began to reflect upon the role that libraries can have on this process. The Prince of Wales astutely points out that in celebration of post-war Modernism, "there was an eagerness to embark upon a new age of radical experimentation in every area of human experience which caused many traditional ideas to be discarded in a fit of uncontrollable enthusiasm." (para 7) It appears, to me, that the repositories of knowledge that we have struggled to build and maintain, also house the solutions to our current plight as a civilization in crisis. The studies are in and the debate is over. We are in trouble.

Yet, the answers to many of our problems reside in the philosophies of our predecessors and those who continue to champion the value of natural order and balance in nature. I was deeply moved by the Prince's reasoning that we must think differently about our relationship with our planet by becoming more connected to it. It is no longer sufficient for us to be the "keepers" of information - we must be the conduit if we are to inspire social, economic, and philosophical change.

HRH The Prince of Wales. (7 July 2009). Facing the future: 2009 Richard Dimbleby lecture. St James’s Palace State Apartments, London. [Transcript]. Retrieved November 16, 2009 from


Phil said...

Hi Christina,

Very interesting post that spurs two thoughts:

Firstly, this sounds like a reading of E.F. Schumacher is in order. His analysis of neo-classical economics in "Small is Beautiful" pointed out that, among other things, economic analyses were inherently flawed because they treat natural resources as expendable income, when in fact they should be treated as capital. In addition, if I recall correctly (it's been 30 years since I read it) "small is beautiful" is a marvellous discussion of why local and small-scale economic activity is a superior way to organize economies.

Secondly, to bring us down to the gritty reality of running local libraries: pursuing library services from a "local" perspective is fraught with misundertanding if we don't ascertain what the "local" means. We are apt to see the "local" needs as only about those patrons whom we regularly see. Doing that, we fall into the paradigm of only counting & serving patrons who come in the door. When we do that, we end up fostering the misleading "brand" that libraries are about books. The danger is that, while the library for those patrons is all about books, our larger community has more diverse needs based on diverging formats and location. To that end, we have to educate our community: we are about information, and always have been. Books are a container. There are also other useful containers. We must use our library-education, experience, and the wider perspective we have gained from that education and experience, to represent all information needs of the community: not just the "readers" who vocally demand service and collection.


Christina Neigel said...

Aha...I like your thoughts on this. Indeed, I just "attended" a webcast that discussed the "transformational" nature of our libraries and how important it has become to serve people where THEY are. In the latest issue of OCLC's NEXT, Tomy Storey states: "bring the transformational mission of the library to where transformations are most likely to happen." Today, I even heard a librarian reitterate the claim that we should no longer see ourselves as bastions of our cultural preservation but act in a more dynamic and assertive capacity to inform others. This resoantes with what you said, Phil. So, I guess, the next question is...HOW do we make this shift quickly and successfully?