Monday, March 30, 2009

ALA Elections and This I Believe

As I prepare to vote for officers and council members of the American Library Association, I dread the process. Many of the candidates' statements of concern are so repetitive and dry. As I read through them, I often resort to looking for key words and phrases, such "intellectual freedom" and "public service." I rarely feel that I get a real sense of the person writing. If I do, however, that librarian often get a vote for good writing. I reason that if the candidate writes well, she or he probably communicates well and may make a good representative.

I wish all of the ALA candidates would be required to read or listen to This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women. This I Believe was a short daily radio program began in the early 1950s by a group of broadcasters associated with Edward R. Murrow. Prominent citizens told listeners in about four minutes what shaped their personal beliefs and how they applied their philosophies to their lives. Helen Keller, Martha Graham, Leonard Bernstein, Carl Sandberg, and Wallace Stegner were among the early guests on the program. The program was phenomenally successful but criticized for having only the thoughts of social elites. Murrow and his friends then opened the program to people from all walks of life. It lost its sponsorship in the mid-1950s and was mostly forgotten until Jay Allison revived it for National Public Radio in 2005.

I listened to This I Believe on five compact discs, including statements from both the original and revived series. I enjoyed how most of the essays started with a clear statement of belief and then told how the person came to believe. Many of the guests told personal stories of hardships overcome, events witnessed, and lessons learned. Some were humorous. Series guidelines insist that speakers tell what they believe, not what they don't believe, keeping the statements positive and constructive. I do not agree with the philosophies of all the speakers, including William F. Buckley, Jr. and Newt Gingrich, but I think I may better understand why they believe as they do. I most enjoyed many of the statements from everyday people. After a week of listening, I felt inspired and armed with a few good ideas.

This I Believe has its own website with thousands of statements. Most importantly for ALA candidates, there are guidelines about how to write a statement. Wouldn't it be grand to have interesting, informative ALA candidate statements recorded well in advance and available online? We could listen to the voices of the people who want to serve us. Make them podcasts and we could listen on out iPods. Maybe librarians would take more time to vote.

This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women. Audio Renaissance, 2006. 5 compact discs. ISBN 1593979789

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