Wednesday, October 03, 2018


The good thing about our national crisis of trust and cooperation -- which I believe from the evidence is world-wide -- has the advantage of stimulating a lot of ideas and strategies that were being ignored.  Even on the small scale of "village" some of this work has relevance and is useful.  Last night Valier had a review of Montana law led by John Clark, who works for the Local Government Center in Bozeman.  He's been the mayor of Choteau and has been here before.  
This information needs to be constantly renewed because the people come and go.

"There are two fundamental rules: Everybody wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and everybody wants someone to tell them what to do so that things will turn out OK. With that in mind, our understanding of what conspiracy theories are and why they work comes into focus. Conspiracy theories aren't something that stupid or uneducated people fall for—they are something that people who want to believe in something latch on to."

It's only human that people come to these meetings looking for ways to make things be the way they want them to be without quite asking themselves why they want that.  This time one of the issues was the library: who it belongs to, what is the role of the board, how to discover shared values, and so on.  There had been turnover during the time the new addition was under construction so that the talk about what was needed and why wasn't shared by new people on the board.  But also there has been a generational shift both in the local library and who it serves and across the national culture from the older pattern of a hushed book-based place to a lively -- maybe noisy -- computer-supporting, international portal sort of center.  

Specifically, it was a shock to some for the library to be crowded with noisy kids doing art projects, which the librarian managed.  One former mayor and board member defended the idea strongly, on grounds that it was a great benefit to bridge the gap between when school ends and parents arrive home from work.  Valier is becoming a "bedroom community" so that driving time from work and even distance to home are longer than they used to be and take more time.

Cultural awareness would increase awareness of uses that aren't middle-class-white-people ideas.  Valier is 30% "American Indian" in demographic surveys.  One of the steadiest and most enthusiastic groups that use the library are Hutterites, esp. younger woman.  Christian romance is a major part of the library holdings.  I personally, a sort of scholar/blogger, value the interlibrary loan program and the librarian's skill in finding and bringing very expensive research materials.

One wouldn't like to embarrass anyone by mentioning too specifically aspects of being a librarian that are not always known by most people.  Valier has some older, single, retired men who get lonesome, as well as women with sub-therapy knots to work through at home.  I can name a few juvenile girls who trust this librarian, but few other adults.  The librarian is often consulted for reassurance, such as when rumours are circulating.

A number of cultural aspects of our country in crisis cropped up in my mind as Dan talked.  One was how intolerant we are of kids, underfunding programs for their welfare, caging other people's children, failing to convey realistic terms for behavior.  Dan spent some time on the changes in our internet opportunities in terms of conforming to existing laws.  What is a quorum when one person is present only on Skype?  Can a committee meeting be held entirely on the phone?  It also struck me that Lakoff's distinction between people who believe in leaders who are "strict papas" -- those who lay down the law and enforce it -- versus "lenient papas" -- those who are more elastic -- seems to be one of our persisting causes of dissension.

Dan recommended four steps:  
1) discover and reconcile values.  
2) develop strategies for going ahead,  
3)  Establish structures that support the previous steps.  
4)  Take action.  (Writing a check is action, too.)  
They aren't really so much steps as a continuous loop, though things like structure dictated by larger oversights in terms of law can be slow to change.

A public strategy that is troublesome is what might be called telephone politics.  The fact that most demands made to committee members are by telephone, often rather late, rather than sent by email points to the idea of older people disturbed by change but unwilling to show up for public meetings.  This town probably needs a public visitor, sort of like a public nurse, who drops by to chat with isolates.  That's a strategy, too, but it asks for money which is a problem.

A structural problem is much more difficult to solve, particularly in the broad rural areas of Montana.  The library is defined and supported by community, but the patrons come from the "service area" like those served by gas, electricity, telephone, internet, roads.  The service area of the library is thought of as being like that for potable water, bordered by the limits of the town.  But it more like the service area of the school district, and quite closely linked since some teachers bring classes to the library.  

One could say, rather poetically, that the library is more like the irrigation system that helps things grow over a service area, but one must buy shares in an irrigation system.  Maybe libraries should ask for shares!  Except that since the days of Carnegie they have always been a universal service to all people because of benefiting society as a whole, even nonreaders since they will be in the company of people who ARE readers and share information and attitudes.

One of the disservices to the larger society is the gradual but widespread reluctance to leave home except during working hours.  Face-to-face interactions don't happen, even if you serve cookies.  (Too many people are diabetic, esp. in older communities.)  Contention discourages attendance, but even the happy chosen groups, like book-reading clubs, are under-attended.

Dan needs some new tricks for a new round of people and problems.  Luckily, Bozeman is a good place to find them.  I hope he got back safely in our icy weather.

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