No less than the U.S. Supreme Court described a library as “a place dedicated to quiet, to knowledge and to beauty … [a place] to inquire, to study, to evaluate … to literally explore the unknown and discover areas of interest. …” It offered those eloquent words in defense of a library’s right to present whatever information its administrators and selectors feel is beneficial and necessary for its users, free from the censorship of those who might want to limit the ideas that some of its works may address. From the earliest times, libraries have had a mission to collect, curate, organize, and disseminate knowledge and information as broadly as possible for the benefit of the societies they serve.
This is not to say that libraries are free from social, economic, and political pressures. The Supreme Court decision mentioned here is for one of a large number of cases in which attempts were made to censor or filter the work of libraries and librarians. On a practical level, libraries are subject to budgetary constraints that require them to make choices about their information collections, so they may focus on certain core or “popular” materials. School and academic libraries often make selections based on curricular needs that are consistent with the school.
Alternative Facts, Bigly, Deplorables …
But libraries remain places where citizens can find the information they need in order to proceed on all matters, whether mundane or significant. The recent election cycle and the first months of the new presidential administration and congressional session have been among the most significant and divisive periods in recent American society. The 2016 election cycle generated a nearly nonstop wave of controversy, questions, “breaking news,” disagreements, and challenges that seems to have left a never-ending trail of turmoil in its wake. Throw in a new vocabulary of terms such as alt-right, alternative facts, bigly, deplorables, extreme vetting, fake news, and yuuuge, and you have a situation that begs inquiry, clarification, and understanding.
And libraries have stepped up. Taking on their traditional role of offering a place for patrons “to inquire, to study, to evaluate,” libraries are gathering information about the candidates, the election, the administration, Congress, and the issues that have arisen in the last months and are disseminating it in as neutral, nonpartisan, and comprehensive a manner as possible.
Most of this work is in the form of research guides or LibGuides posted to library websites. LibGuides is a content management software platform from Springshare. It allows library and research experts to identify resources and present them with accompanying text in an effective and easy-to-read manner. While LibGuides is the name of the branded software platform, it has also become the favored name for these research collections.
A scan of these works shows a wide array of thoughtful and comprehensive collections, with formats ranging from broad overviews of our governmental systems to specific issue-oriented lists. The libraries that present these collections include large university libraries, law school and other departmental libraries, small college libraries, public libraries, and school libraries—demonstrating not only libraries responding to the demand for information on these issues, but also the dedication of skilled librarians in meeting that demand.
I have focused on a selection of comprehensive resource guides and am presenting them in roughly chronological order, beginning with the 2016 election campaign through the recent issues and events of the current administration and Congress. All of these guides can be identified through Google searches of the school or library and the title of the guide.
Living History and The Art of the Deal
Penn State University Libraries and Georgia State University’s University Library have resource guides focusing on the 2016 election process and outcome. Penn State guide, Post-Election 2016 Recap & Resources, provides a “supportive virtual space to explore, learn, and discuss ideas brought up in the election and the ideas we grapple with after.” Among the resources are news on the election, voting totals and patterns, the media’s role, local resources for Pennsylvania voters, post-election reflections, and other content. The guide offers suggested searches to find additional resources in the Penn State libraries. There is also a selection of books and other materials on the democratic process: treatises and tomes on politics and democracy, a book on House of Cards, the first season of Veep, Living History by Hillary Clinton and The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump, etc. Georgia State’s site is more news-oriented, with links to newspaper databases; national, regional, and local news sources; political and election-oriented blogs and websites, and Georgia voting information.