Candle in the Wind

By Jenny Silbiger

We find ourselves in a world opened up from pandemic safety restrictions, with libraries in various scenes of full operation, and for which I find myself in a state of cautious excitement about embracing the physical opening of our doors, delivery of in-person services and physical access to our resources.  At the same time, we continue to offer and leverage our creative remote services, and every day I feel gratitude for our ability to offer support to our library stakeholders in both traditional and pandemic-response oriented methods, as well as thankful for the safety and health of my coworkers, friends, and library visitors. 

And then I wake up to the terrible tragedy of the recent school shooting in Texas, leaving 19 children and two teachers dead, just in the aftermath of the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, where a white supremacist killed 13 people, 11 of whom were Black.  And isnʻt it coincidental that my very first NBU entry was in response to the rise in anti-Asian violence, which included a mass shooting targeting Asian Americans a year ago.  Sometimes, I do not understand the weight of the overwhelming powerlessness, or how heavy it is that I feel so little to do anything about anything.  

Candle in hand
Source: Prateek Gautam, Unsplash

Simultaneously, we live beneath the same sky as the one that watches over conflict abroad.  Where, through access to fact-based information, we are witnesses to the senseless Russian invasion into Ukraine, and to the Ukrainian civilian and military acts of defense and bravery, who fight every day to protect their homeland, livelihood, and their basic human rights. Earlier this year, UH-West Oʻahu James and Abigail Campbell Library was host to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum & ALA traveling exhibit, Americans and the Holocaust (AATH). I’m grateful for visiting the exhibit and for the amazing opportunity to be part of the final event during AATH’s tenure with us that I shared on NBU here

I’m struck now as I was struck then:  the world continues to face injustice and inhumanity, and it is imperative for libraries to keep the lights on and the lens focused on facts, stories, and truths. Libraries continue to protect access to information and therefore access to justice, and keeping our eyes and ears open to truth and sharing access to these truths are more important than ever.

Further, if we return our birds’ eye view to our nation’s legal landscape, we see more disruptive conflict:  the latest leak of a US Supreme Court draft opinion that would rewind the clock on women’s legal bodily autonomy by fifty years. Through access to information, we have the ability to comb through digital archives and news coverage, where we can analyze the words of Supreme Court nominees at their confirmation hearings before Congress and then compare them to the words that are captured in the draft opinion, recognizing stark contrasts. Wherever you stand on the issue of reproductive health rights—a spectrum that includes wholeheartedly supporting women’s bodily autonomy and equal protection under the constitution and deeply personal beliefs relating to the unborn, a legal decision such as the one leaked would have direct, severe, and significant impacts to all people in our country.  Again, it is important, now more than ever, to have access to facts, stories, and truths.

And so this powerlessness also moves in: how do I continue to be breathing, working, living on this planet with all that is going on, where children are murdered and civils rights are trampled beneath hatred and volitilty. What am I even doing here? What can I do? What can a librarian do? What is one small thing that we can do to have a constructive impact on such conflict and pain that we see in the world?  

There is active protesting around the preservation of civil rights, standing up against systemic racism and violence, gun violence, and gender and transgender bias and pushing for systemic change. Some of which I have done here (they say “thousands” but we later learned it was 10,000+) and here and here. There is speaking out into the void and lifting up our voices loudly so that we do not accept injustices that we see in our country and the world. Or we may simmer and rage against the machine, enacting small and big actions how we can and when we can. And there is also reaching out to colleagues and friends and family in times of stress and times of need, from working on ʻofficialʻ statements to just a call and a moment of shared empathy with someone we care about. To take care of our hearts and minds, to mitigate burning out into shrill husks, as more senseless acts of violence and racism and killings and stripping of civil rights continue.

But when I am still: my thoughts turn to what can seem simple, but is more complicated than meets the eye. It is both a development and commitment: to remain open to learning and improving our understanding and knowledge of one another, both internal to ourselves and to the diverse experiences that come from our fellow colleagues, friends and families. Knowledge that can be developed, in part, with the facts, truths, resources, and information that our libraries lift up in our collections, services, and programming. To combine our thoughts and our hearts to understand the common and diverse language of humanity among us all, as responsible and careful stewards of each other’s stories, an idea nestled in decades of research from Dr. Brené Brown.** 

Librarians have always been stewards of information, which often includes the stories of one another. It is not a stretch, then, but it can be the most meaningful stretch of all, to include the stories of each other in our work and personal lives. Meaningful connection, even in what can seem a dark, turbulent world, cultivates a state of considerate learning and inspiration. Connection and story stewardship turns the tempo away from conquering and controlling, and instead towards lifting one another up in a society that recognizes that we are worthy of showing up, being seen, and accepted.**  

Source: Rebecca Peterson, Unsplash

Dr. Brown’s work also includes this story—and as librarians, donʻt we love stories? Once upon a time, she was talking to her kids about the nuances of making friends and creating connections as we grow up in life.  She envisioned a candle. She told her kids that our personality, our spirit, who we are, is like a candle flame that can be held in the palms of our hands. A true friend will not only love your light, but will want to help you shine your light brighter. Or, in the event that your flame falters, due to external or internal circumstances; a true friend, will shelter your flame, will help protect it, to keep it alight. Still, there are people that you will meet in the course of your life, who will, for whatever reasons, out of insecurity or personal trauma or whatever, may want to blow out your light. They may even act like they’re your friend, but in the end, would blow your candle out rather than help you protect your flame.  But, a true friend will want you to shine bright and will also be there for you in times of trouble, to keep your light aglow.

I’m thankful that we can see these types of meaningful connections already in our law library community, and I hope in the days and years to come that even more can be nurtured and developed beneath the skies of our workplaces and beyond. Let us lift one another up, especially when we feel hopeless, let us help each other to keep our flames alight. Because making one small difference in our colleague’s life is a miracle. And that miracle, no matter how small, has the capacity to heal our broken world.

*I shared a similar letter with my Hawaii librarian colleagues in our island home as well.

**Link to Dr. Brené Brown’s decades of research around courage and shame, vulnerability, empathy, the human condition, meaningful connection and more, here.  


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.