From the Catbird’s Seat


Library CEO Lee Keesler was a presenter and attendee at last month’s annual Library Convening and Knight Media Forum, hosted by the Knight Foundation in Miami. We asked him to share his impressions of the conference:


The Knight Foundation has been a good friend to the Library for many years and recently Charles Thomas and Knight gave Jenni Gaisbauer, Seth Ervin and me the opportunity to attend its annual Library Convening as well as the highly regarded Knight Media Forum. The Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots whose goal is to “foster informed and engaged communities…that are essential for a healthy democracy.” The three days in Miami were a rare and wonderful opportunity to listen and learn, and these were my big takeaways:

  1. These are fertile times for social investors like Knight because as novelist, playwright and activist James Baldwin said, “we made the world we’re living in, and now we need to make it over.” Knight President and CEO Alberto Ibarguen urged leaders and funders in the audience to support social infrastructure and to do it with “a sense of urgency.”
  2. The solution to a brighter future is local. Local equals trust, breeds trust, and trust requires reciprocity built on trust. Several speakers mentioned the power of local.
  3. Local commitment to digital and civic literacy is crucial. These were two recommendations of the Knight Commission on Trust in the Media.
  4. The art of connecting is fast becoming a valuable life skill and prerequisite for building community. As Grant Oliphant, President of The Heinz Endowments, said, “strangers together become stronger together.” The Knight Commission on Trust in the Media urged communities to create more civic spaces where people of all kinds can connect.
  5. There’s no better way to build trust, celebrate local, share valuable information and news or foster connections than to tell stories. Journalist and author David Brooks told a lunchtime audience that “there has to be a town story.”

Where do public libraries find themselves in this evolving environment? Right in the catbird’s seat.

What is more local than public libraries? What institutions are more trusted than libraries? Almost none.

Who delivers all kinds of literacy – reading, digital, financial – every day across the entire community, and is better equipped to collaborate with journalists to teach news literacy to students and adults? Libraries.

Who welcomes the entire community across its doorstep free of charge, and provides reading materials, spaces, programs, and technology to encourage learning and connecting? Libraries.

Who offers classroom and digital versions of civic literacy to new and longstanding residents? Your library does.

Who is creating a new civic space in the community where people can access knowledge, use it to grow to the best versions of themselves, connect with others, and leave equipped and empowered to participate positively in the public life of our community? Your library.

David Brooks closed the Media Forum by differentiating between happiness and joy. Happy, he said, results when an individual enjoys the benefit of a particular outcome she/he had a hand in creating. Joy, on the other hand, is when an individual’s achievement benefits not only her/him but more importantly also benefits others. Libraries are happy to be in the joy business.

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