July 10, 2017

Libraries and the truths that inspire us

Growing up my grandmother used to wag her finger at me and tell me not to tell stories. She would then turn her head back to the television and her “story”-- which was either General Hospital, The Edge of Night or some 70s version of The Young and the Restless. In the South, “story” is a euphemism for lie. It implies that stories don’t get their facts straight.

This definition and the attitude it rests on misses that facts alone do not tell us what is true. They indicate truths with a lower case not the transcendent, capital T -- Truths we hunger for. Truths we seek as we search for meaning in our lives. Truths that lead us to fully experiencing what it means to be human in this world.

Sara Paretsky speaking at the Carnegie Medal celebration

Tonight we celebrate two outstanding examples of works that lead us to those Truths about ourselves, our past, our present and our future: Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad and Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. We will also hear from a woman who tore through the paper ceiling when Indemnity Only was published. Sara Paretsky taught us that no one gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation; no one group “owns” a genre, owns a story. Neither authors, publishers, nor readers fully own the story. The full story is found in the communities that form around our shared understanding.

Colson Whitehead and Matthew Desmond holding their Carnegie Medals

In her book, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest (Yale University Press, 2017), UNC School of Information and Library Science associate professor, Zeynep Tufecki reminds us that:

In the networked public sphere, the goal of the powerful often is not to convince people of the truth of a particular narrative or to block a particular piece of information from getting out (that is increasingly difficult) but to produce resignation, cynicism, and a sense of disempowerment among the people.

NoveList is proud to be a part of tonight’s Carnegie celebration and the beacon of Truth that these books and this award represent in a world focused too much on the fake. Let us use tonight to instead concentrate on the caring, compassionate, the courageous and inspired among us.

(Post adapted from Duncan Smith's remarks at the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction 2017 Awards Ceremony and Reception. Photo credit of Sara Paretsky, Colson Whitehead, and Matthew Desmond goes to Amy Stieve and used with permission).

Duncan is co-founder and general manager of NoveList. He helps transform the lives of readers by leading a team that creates the tools library staff use to provide their most important service -- connecting readers with the books that will make a difference in their lives.

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