This Wednesday, I attended the Urban Libraries Council’s audio conference, Agents for Change in a Complex World. The presentation was really very good; in fact, I am appreciating it more now than I did in the moment. I haven’t read the OCLC research report, From Awareness to Funding, that is the foundation for the conference but I definitely will. Essentially two presentations in one, Cathy De Rosa first presented some nice quantitative research data that outlined the component pieces of library support among voters. A very pragmatic bit of research to be sure and, while not earth-shattering in hindsight, it was really valuable information nonetheless. The bottom line, after all the numbers, is that voters who can be counted on to support the library believe in the public library as an agent of transformation, both in terms of the potential impact the library can have on an individual and how the presence of an excellent library can transform a community by bringing its members together in ways that are more valuable to the community than each of us can be alone.
The real heart of the matter though, the real point of the discussion, was not simply to report the research findings, though. More important is what libraries can do with the information. The second speaker, Adam Kahane, explained what we need to understand if we hope to convince with sincerity those community members (those voters) who are potential supporters of the library at the ballot box but who need that little extra encouragement.
I have to admit, now, that when Kahne first introduced his hypothesis, that we as “sellers” of the library need to be bilingual in the "languages of power and love", my first thought was that he sounded a little like Dr. Phil. I wasn’t buying it. But, as he spoke, he really started making sense and his message dovetails perfectly with the findings De Rosa reported from the OCLC report.
According to Kahane, the language of power that we need to understand refers to the transformational power of the library. Power in this sense is self-realization. This struck me a lot as being similar to Aristotle’s belief in the potentiality of man and to Maslow’s self-actualization. In other words, the library, in taking this transformational role is providing us with something we need as humans; it allows us to realize our maximum potential. And the language of love speaks to “creating wholeness”; that is what love does, says Kahane. As we care for one another, we build relationships that continue to build off of one another. As we share with one another the value that each of us bring to the community, the community grows and becomes stronger.
The library is, in fact, the primary vehicle for achieving greater self-realization both as a self and as a member of the community and it is precisely this message that we need to reinforce when we are out in the community seeking support for our organizations.