Columnist Daniel Cantor Yalowitz: Celebrating us and our new library

By DANIEL CANTOR YALOWITZ

Published: 07-30-2023 8:05 PM

“Libraries are … a place to gather that focuses its role on the social infrastructure which enables libraries to help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life…” — Eric Klinenberg, Palaces for the People (2018)

“Libraries are … a place to gather that focuses its role on the social infrastructure which enables libraries to help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life.” — Eric Klinenberg, Palaces for the People (2018)

Today — as with all the days to follow — we celebrate not only the unveiling and access to our newly opened public library, but the full extent of civic and social engagement by the people of Greenfield and Franklin County to raise this building from the ground up.

Yes, it’s true that our city government played a (minor) role over these past few years to inch it forward, but it has really been the citizens of our local community who have brought this to fruition. Governance did what it had to — and we, the people, did everything else, and more. And so this column celebrates the power of the people — we, the residents, citizens, and workers — to bring a vision and a dream into reality.

It’s proof positive that when individuals connect to bridge a concept into a practice, the collective is the strongest part of humanity, not our government and its s/elected officials, not our primary and secondary economic institutions, to make good things happen. It is the people who willed and worked this library from idea to reality.

“The people” — those whom we see, pass by, and interact with each and every day, wherever we find ourselves. We are these people. And, for once, we deserve full (and extra) credit for championing our new library. It was our neighbors, it was us, who came forth to staff active committees, did the fundraising, creating the infrastructure, engaged with many of the contractors and subcontractors, explained to individuals and groups the complex plans, and kept the energies striving and thriving forward for the years it was critical to see this through to completion.

For Greenfield — for all of Franklin County and beyond — our new edifice stands, beautiful, strong, environmentally sensitive, and at the core and center of a city that has seen more than its fair share of struggle and discontent over these past few years.

We are the owners and controllers of our library, lest anyone tell you otherwise. The staff are our friends and neighbors. Many of the presenters who will come forward to lead book talks, programs, workshops, and more are local folks with whom we mix and mingle without necessarily knowing that it is their turn to share and lead.

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According to Eric Klinenberg, “everyday life in libraries is a democratic experiment.” We all have equal access — a privilege elsewhere, perhaps, but a right for us here as members in good standing within our community.

When people gather and collaborate, when minds are set and tuned to “listening mode” instead of “talk/me mode,” it never ceases to amaze what we are capable of. As far as I can tell, ego had a very small role to play in the building of the building. The highly capable leadership that arose through all phases of the visioning-to-building process was not publicly elected, but rather, self-selected, to take every aspect of this endeavor on. When differences, difficulties, and conflicts arose — conflict is inevitable, and it is a terrible thing to waste — our peers had the patience, the skills, and the understanding to stop, look, listen, learn, and possibly reframe.

Libraries are places in which we do all that is among the best for us as a species: learn, explore, demonstrate curiosity and creativity, build greater awareness, understanding and empathy. At the formal opening on July 13, one of the speakers spoke about our new library as being “the community living room.” We will all be better off if that idea becomes reality.

Our library is “public” and “free.” All are welcome, all are free to use and engage in the full scope of its activities and offerings. Beyond a few simple and basic rules of comportment and decorum, the library stands out as “The People’s Building” for us to strive to bring out the best in ourselves and one another. I hope those in city government will recognize and support the people’s victory here, and enjoy the library like the rest of us for what it is and what it means.

As we go back to our day-to-day busy-ness, let’s remember that our library is, and will be, a safe container for all of us, a place wherein Greenfield and Greenfielders can spread their wings, their visions, and take flight. Aim high, whether its sitting with a new novel, taking on a research project, learning or refining a new skill in a workshop, or building greater worldly and self-awareness through an author’s presentation. Engage and enjoy!

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz writes a regular column in the Recorder. A developmental and intercultural psychologist, he has facilitated change in many organizations and communities around the world. He is former chairman of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission and his two most recent books are “Journeying with Your Archetypes” and “Reflections on the Nature of Friendship.” Reach out to him at danielcyalowitz@gmail.com.

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