April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Choosing Leaders: What Are You Voting For? | Editorial

Next month the United States will elect a new president. This election cycle has much at stake. How each of us talks about the race and takes part is consequential. Libraries have always been about fostering understanding of the democratic process, but there is an intensified requirement raised this round to confront mis­information.

Our kids are watching and learning. So far, they have witnessed, largely due to Donald Trump’s candidacy, a low bar of rhetoric that, heightened by the gaze of a camera lens, has glamorized racism, sexism, and xenophobia at the expense of accuracy, insight into how policies affect daily life, and clear discussion of the issues at hand. The noise and show of self-aggrandizement and hostility as a leadership stance drowns out thoughtful approaches to complex problems. If we let this deplorable level of discourse stand as a new normal for the viability of hype, we fail our students, ourselves, and the foundation upon which our democracy is built.

As I sort through the vast flow of content and media coverage geared to sway instead of inform, I am more committed than ever to the mission of libraries to help foster an educated citizenry and develop all sorts of literacies—including information and digital literacy. This work has always mattered, and now it is more important than ever.

We have tools at hand (see “Election Resources“) and models to follow. These range from more passive approaches such as displays that surface reliable sources on the issues and candidates to proactive programming that takes the issue of truth in electioneering head on. Consider the “Debate Watch Party” that Johnson County Library in Kansas planned for late September and October—complete with live fact-checking and on-site voter registration. Fact-checking has been much too absent so far, but we hope that will change with more major media outlets (including the New York Times) deciding to call out downright lies for the good of the people. This is welcome and needed.

Beyond that, there is something more ineffable at stake in this election, a perhaps evergreen issue that is now in stark relief—why we choose to vote for a candidate. Is an election a thumbs-up in some kind of popularity contest, or the opportunity to influence a better future? The election process is a time to help children learn how to vote responsibly, by thinking now about why they would choose a certain leader and what qualities matter. I choose empathy, strength, commitment, passion for positive change, and kindness. I also want a leader who is humble enough in the face of our very real challenges to do the hard work to accomplish what needs to be done, even if incrementally. I want a leader who is respectful and listens to a wide range of perspectives. And I want a leader who tells the truth. This is what I hope to reinforce with the children in my life who will live with the outcome of this election much longer than any of us adults will.

For me, a vote is an investment in a future worth building. It’s a way of empowering someone who best aligns with my ethics and principles. It’s also an obligation, to make an actual best choice, each time. Politics is where idealism and pragmatism meet. Though the balance will be different for each voter—and each contest—it’s important to consider the whole picture before adding your voice to the tally. The excitement of embracing that responsibility is real, and it becomes more tangible as one is informed, actively questioning, and thinking and dreaming about the world we can create.


Rebecca T. Miller




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This article was published in School Library Journal's October 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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