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Raison d’être 2008-04-08

Posted by lukethelibrarian in Librarysphere.
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Elie Wiesel’s contribution to NPR’s This I Believe essay series appeared on yesterday afternoon’s All Things Considered, and landed like a cannonball in the center of my chest. An excerpt:

When we endure an experience, the experience cannot stay with me alone. It must be opened, it must become an offering, it must be deepened and given and shared. And of course I am afraid that memories suppressed could come back with a fury, which is dangerous to all human beings, not only to those who directly were participants but to people everywhere, to the world, for everyone. So, therefore, those memories that are discarded, shamed, somehow they may come back in different ways — disguised, perhaps seeking another outlet.

Granted, our task is to inform. But information must be transformed into knowledge, knowledge into sensitivity and sensitivity into commitment.

How can we therefore speak, unless we believe that our words have meaning, that our words will help others to prevent my past from becoming another person’s — another peoples’ — future. Yes, our stories are essential — essential to memory. I believe that the witnesses, especially the survivors, have the most important role. They can simply say, in the words of the prophet, “I was there.”

What is a witness if not someone who has a tale to tell and lives only with one haunting desire: to tell it. Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.

As librarians, as knowledge managers, we tend to think of ourselves as being at the service of our patrons, of our students, of our research clients. But Wiesel reminds us of a deeper imperative: we live and work at the service of witnesses. We find those witnesses, with their haunting desire to tell their tale, not only on our shelves and in our wires — but also walking in and out of our doors every day, passing us in the halls, sitting at the next table at lunch. Building information literacy means much more than training people to be information consumers; it means empowering them to witness, to create, to share with the rest of us.

To paraphrase Ranganathan: we serve not only readers in search of a story, we also serve stories in search of a reader. What if some those stories have not yet been written down or spoken aloud? Does that make them any less our responsibility?