Values are big in this time of change and prosperity. From the weary political arguments about "character" and "family values" (as if single, childless people have no claim to values) to an emphasis on ethics courses in law schools to our very own Congress on Professional Education and its Task Force on Values, there is something in the air; something that speaks to a search for meaning. Odd, is it not, that we heard almost none of this less than a decade ago, when the country was mired in deficits and recession and library budgets were being slashed? We need values and meaning to sustain us in hard times, but in comfortable times we only talk about them.
However, tough times will come again, and today's discussions on values may well lead to something that will sustain us in needier periods. Looked at another way, these are tough times--not economically but because some feel our profession is doomed or at least teetering on the edge of irrelevance. What does it profit a librarian to have money for collections and services but no faith in their value and future?
A confessed co-conspirator
I must confess here that I am a willing participant in the Great Values Trend in that I have written a book on the topic, to be published by ALA Editions in time for the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. It's called Our Enduring Values. (I wanted a snappy, bestsellerish title like How Values Helped Me to Sell $1 Million in Real Estate or Harry Potter Taught Me Everything I Know about Values, but you know those fuddy-duddies at ALA!)
Writing a book is a great way to learn. The first thing I learned was that I did not know what a "value" is. The more I consulted dictionaries and encyclopedias and read books of philosophy, management, education, etc., the more slippery the word became. Unless you, like the "family values" crowd, derive your values from a religious source and believe them to be applicable in all cases (even in matters far from religion such as tax policy and the teaching of reading), you will come slap up against this problem of definition. Values do not occur in nature; nor can they be discovered from external sources. They are the products of human minds--shared beliefs motivated by interest and self-interest. They are neither universal nor eternal, but they must appeal to enough people with a common interest and common goals; and when they change, they must change in an evolutionary manner if they are to qualify as values.
In preparing my book, I read many articles and books written by librarians over many years. …