Thursday, December 15, 2016

FCPLEA President's Statement to Library Board, December 14, 2016

Deb Smith-Cohen
Fairfax County Public Library Employee Association President
Statement to Library Board of Trustees
December 14, 2016

I want to talk about curiosity, what it means to relationships and opportunities, and the potential implications of a culture of curiosity for FCPL.

This is an old story in my family. I have never loved pastels, ruffles, or lace and purchased clothes for my daughter based on those preferences. However, we inevitably were given some clothes in those categories. When my daughter was 3, one morning while I was trying to dress her by my preference and she was insisting on another outfit, she put her hands on her hips and announced, “Mommy, you and I are different.” It was an amazingly valuable piece of instruction, even if it was also obvious.

The results of the recent Presidential election were a surprise to many, regardless of whether they voted, how they voted, or what they preferred for an outcome.

One of the conversations that have come out of this surprise is about the need to listen to one another. Another is the premise that none of us has a complete understanding of “the truth”. A third is the blessing of genuine curiosity and empathy for the feelings, experience, and needs of others. Finally, there is an acknowledgement that the options for meeting diverse, even conflicting, expectations are not fixed or entirely known, but require intentional, consensual, and incremental effort. None of this is easy.

Fundamentally, libraries are about that best kind of deep curiosity. It is a curiosity that demands that we recognize the following opportunities:

 We all benefit when we detach from fixed positions (not values), and are open to differences.
 We love learning and sharing what we’ve learned, and resist exclusion and control.
 We collaborate to confront the ways that fear can kill creativity, courage, and connection.
 We acknowledge that we do not know it all, and cultivate partnerships for referrals as appropriate.

In the library, we deal every day with people whose interests, needs, knowledge, and abilities are different from ours. We succeed when we meet them where they are, ask with open curiosity and genuine respect what we can do to help them and, hearing an unexpected answer, strive to find an appropriate and satisfying outcome.

We are committed to creating a strategic plan and advancing budget priorities that celebrate (not suffice) those aspirations. My hope is that 2017 moves us all toward more skill, confidence, and curiosity.

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