Last week a New Zealand library manager commented in a newspaper article that internet computers had brought an “unsavoury element” into the library. That manager does some good work, and may have been caught off guard by the reporter, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

The comment points to a worrying attitude in some libraries – that there’s us, and there’s them. Who makes up the ‘us’ category? I suspect it’s nice people – the ones who are quiet, read good books, don’t play games on the APNK computers and are, predominantly anyway, white middle class Kiwis. You know, us!

So, if that’s ‘us’, who is this mysterious ‘them’? The FaceBook gamers, the immigrants, the nuisance ones who can’t write their own CV and look too scruffy for our liking, who talk too loud and laugh too often. You know, them

There’s a problem with ‘us’ and ‘them’ … because there is no ‘them’ – in the end there’s only ‘us’.

I’m white middle class, well employed, and so on, a classic ‘us’. Or am I? I grew up in a poor town, in a street with gang connections, and still live there. I was suicidal in my 20s, I divorced after an affair, I’ve done things I’m not proud of, I’ve been unemployed, and so on. Miss Model Citizen 1964? Hardly…

The guy on the computer struggling to do his CV could be my neighbour, and my friend … when you judge him you judge me, and you tell me something about yourself.

We need to welcome everyone* into our libraries and provide the best possible service we can. The world is troubled, and what we do matters. If war comes, and I think it might, what we offer will matter even more. Because in the end it’s just *us* occupying a small, troubled planet.

Note * – Does that include Nazis etc? I don’t yet know the answer to that, and I hope I am never put to the test…

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