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KDL Blog

Creating Better Libraries and Stronger Communities through Kindness, Empathy and Love

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Creating Better Libraries and Stronger Communities through Kindness, Empathy and Love

Post #1 in a series, by Lance Werner, ALA President Candidate and Director at Kent District Library

Living with kindness, empathy and love provides benefits for both the giver and receiver. Studies show that these types of expression might slow aging, decrease pain and create a higher sense of emotional warmth that reduces stress and heart-health risks. For those on the receiving end, a greater sense of inclusion and value contribute to stronger emotional brand engagement. Workplaces with a culture of kindness, empathy and love also have lower staff turnover and greater effectiveness. This culture ripples out from individuals to others in the workplace, to patrons and throughout the community. 

A lot of library conferences feature people talking about technical things and things that are extremely important and inspiring but I feel like it is extremely valuable to get back to the basics. Kindness, empathy and love are valuable – critical – in our profession, and also in our lives and our communities. Right now, the world is suffering from a lack of kindness, empathy and love, and libraries are a perfect place for people to come get their daily dose. 

The mushy stuff matters, and it matters a lot more than you might think. My leadership style is that I am just one gear in a much larger machine, and that our library is just one gear in the much larger machine of the nation’s libraries. We are all interconnected, and when something bad happens on the other side of the country, it has implications for my library and other libraries. What we do is so important that it needs to be cherished, protected and promoted. This is the most exciting time ever in the history of libraries and library work. We, my friends, are in the midst of a change. We are moving forward, and the future is going to be bright because we are going to make it bright. And we will not be satisfied with anything less.

I have a few theories. The first one is that there are lessons in all things, good and bad. Unfortunately, I happen to know that pain is a great teacher, and if you happen to have wisdom you’ve gained through pain, it is so important to share your wisdom with others to help them avoid that pain. In that way, you can take something that’s been so negative for you and change it into something positive and meaningful. Human nature is very much like electricity and water. It flows along the path of least resistance. Convenience and simplicity are valued over almost anything else and people will pay a premium for them. This is very important when we consider removing barriers to service and making things simple and easy. Things that are most used are things that are simple and easy. Why is Amazon so popular? You don’t have to go anywhere to get something. Use your phone and Amazon will deliver things straight to your house. Simple and easy. How can we be better? Be simple and easy.

When I start to feel comfortable, I need to push myself. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first I wish to share a story about why life is short and you don’t want to wait. When my dad was 50, he died of the same brain cancer that killed John McCain and Ted Kennedy. I watched this poor, broken man lie on his death bed full of remorse and regret, and I decided right in that moment that I’m not going to live my life that way. I’m going to have bigger dreams and will do the things I want to do, and go to the places I want to go, and be the person I want to be, and ultimately lay on my death bed with no regrets. I encourage you to do the same. Don’t find yourself in the position of lying on your death bed and contemplating the end and saying, “Gosh, I wish I would have done this. I wish I would have gone there. I wish I would have said that. I wish I would have whatever.” Set a point on the horizon and go after it, and don’t stop until you get there. Because you don’t want to find yourself in that place. You don’t get another shot at it – you get this shot at it. And what you do is important to all of us, not just you. It’s important to every library and every person in this country. What we do is invaluable and critical and we need everybody on board.

Back to comfort: Comfort is the cousin of complacency, and complacency gets us nowhere. If you find yourself comfortable, know that the goal on your horizon is getting further and further away. It might not be immediately apparent, but it’s happening. And if you’re not getting anywhere, we’re not getting anywhere – and that’s unacceptable. We have work to do.

We’re not going to discover and find the future. We’re going to make the future. Through the goals you set for yourself, by standing up for yourself and doing the things that are important to you, we can start a revolution. There’s nothing we can’t do together. We’re a family, all of us, everyone in this industry and in this nation. And we need everybody to be strong. You only get one shot, and you’ve got to run – you’ve got to run hard and run fast.