Guest commentary: In the spirit of gratitude

Published 6:08 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

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By Julie Clinefelter

Austin Public Library Executive Director

“A library is people. Just as much as it is books and archives. You want to know the heart of a library, don’t look at its most famous books; look at the people it serves. Who it comforts, who it protects. The heart of a library may be its books, but its soul is its people. Humans and stories, impossible to separate the two.” -from The God of Lost Words by AJ Hackwith

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I received a package in the mail this week from a previous library director filled with pamphlets and magazine articles from around the time the “new” library was built in the 90s. Browsing through these materials I was reminded of all the support the library has received from this community over the years, and how grateful I am for it all. So, in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to share with you what I am grateful for this year.

First, I am beyond grateful for the library staff. The library could not, and would not, function without them. They are a small, passionate and dedicated part of the city staff who work tirelessly -— often behind the scenes — to make sure our Austin Public Library is an organized, helpful, welcoming place for all people in our community. And after a year full of construction chaos and First Amendment concerns, they all deserve a week on a beach!

Speaking of construction, there are so many people I am grateful for with regards to a project that has been in the works since I began my tenure as director in 2017. From the city council members, who supported the plan when the costs of the project came in above what was expected; to city engineering and facilities staff members, who explained technical construction details to me that were over my head; to community and library board members who asked good questions to help formulate the plan and then advocated for donations; to the Friends of the Library and Floral Club, whose members fundraised for the project; to community groups who supported the project; to the individuals who dropped dollars and quarters into our donation box … it has been a wonderful year of support for a community-centric building that exists to be flexible enough to support a changing, growing city. Thank you all.

I am equally grateful for those who came before. Those philanthropists who understood that free access to information is something vital to a world that values human beings as individuals, and the good those humans can create when they have the resources to help them think beyond themselves to the greater good of their communities. If libraries didn’t already exist today, it is hard to imagine modern day society’s leaders inventing them. Luckily, those future-minded thinkers so many generations ago knew public libraries were — and would be — a vital part of the social infrastructure. Along with churches and green spaces, libraries promote and create the social capital that makes communities strong in difficult times, as we saw most recently in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

So thank you. All of you. To those who reached out to disagree with something the library was doing, thank you. I appreciate your point of view. To those who called in their support, thank you. I appreciate your encouragement. To those who bring your children to summer programming, thank you. We love to see their smiling faces. To those who never come into the building, but use Libby to read or listen to books online, thank you. Your engagement counts. To those who aren’t sure what we do at the library, but quietly come in to look around, thank you. You are always welcome.

Lastly, thank you for the opportunity you have given me to lead a spirited group of people, in a building full of wonder, for a community I love. My gratitude abounds.