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Community Engagement and Inspiring Stories: The Closing Keynote

Josh Hanargarne

Josh Hanargarne

The closing keynote speaker was without doubt one of the more unusual ones to appear at an Internet Librarian conference.  According to the conference program, Josh Hanagarne, a reference librarian at Salt Lake City Public Library and Author, The World’s Strongest Librarian, “is a performing strong man who is an imposing 6′ 7″ tall, a bookish nerd, family man, and twitchy guy with Tourette Syndrome”.  Josh charmed, mesmerized, and inspired the audience and received a standing ovation at the end of his talk.  It was amazing how he frankly discussed his affliction and how it has affected his life.

Recently, Josh has been on a book tour and has noticed how some questions come up more often than others.   The most common one is “What’s wrong with you?”  (He has one of the most serious cases of Tourette syndrome that his neurologist has ever seen.)

Everybody asks, “Why should I care about libraries?  Why do we need them?”  The only thing to say is “Without libraries there would be no librarians.  Is that a world you want to live in?”  Josh believes that kindness, compassion,and curiosity are the most precious things we have.  ”When it comes to libraries, I am always inspired.  Libraries have saved my life.” When he began meeting his staff, the new director of the Salt Lake City library said, “It is not our job to create a better library; it is our job to create a better community.”

What do you think the purpose of a library is?   Some answers from the audience included: a place for lifelong learning, to connect people to knowledge and information, empower people, a place to come to have fun, a place where you dream with your eyes open, and to make people free.

In his role as a reference librarian, Josh has observed that you know the people for whom the library is simply a part of their day.  He told some stories of memorable events in his library and some memorable quotations from users:

  • “What you have here is a miracle”  It’s easy to forget what you have.
  • “A library immediately awards you dignity.  Whoever you talk to will help you.”  It matters so much to so many way people in ways you never know.
  • We’re scrambling. Time you spend thinking “I can’t believe this is happening” is time wasted.  We should say “It’s happening” the sooner you say that, the sooner you can say “What now?”
  • Libraries can make people more free than they can be otherwise.  (“Free” meant to love in the 17th century.)

We can leave this room freer than we entered it.  We will have more options as long as we can ask questions.

Don Hawkins
CIL 2014 Blogger and Blog Coordinator
Editor, Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage

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