It’s the Monday after the Friday before and I have gone back to the office in a country that feels quite different to the one that I was in this time last week. All that I can keep thinking of as we watch the uncertainty of politicians grappling with a referendum vote is what on earth do we do next?
As a disclaimer, I voted Remain. I feel strongly about being part of something bigger than ourselves and while the EU certainly isn’t perfect, we are far poorer being out of it. However, this is just a disclaimer and not an invitation to shout and tell me why I’m wrong.
I don’t tend to get particularly political on this blog but the EU Referendum result seems too important, too wide-reaching to not say something. It isn’t a lot but it is something that I hope helps. While I can’t pretend to even know what it all means yet, heck no-one does really, I know what we must do as a profession. STICK. TOGETHER.
I had the bittersweet experience of being at UXLibs II on the Friday that we will never forget. I had a much needed breakfast with a very wonderful Swedish colleague who I was able to talk to about the immediate rawness of what the result meant to me and to her. I was also incredibly grateful to be surrounded by so many European colleagues at the conference who kept saying how sorry they were and offering hugs as I and my many British friends and colleagues welled up with tears. It was a powerful day and I will never forget how much I appreciated not being made to feel awful by other people who could have easily have been cross with us for the decision our country made. But they weren’t and we worked together in harmony for the rest of the day.
What the responses at UXLibs II to the whole mess of this referendum made me re-appreciate is that the library profession is and will be so incredibly important in the weeks, months and years to come. It doesn’t matter how people voted (well it does, but that’s another discussion) but it matters more how we move forward together and deal with the fallout from this extremely close decision.
As a profession, I feel strongly that we need to do the following:
I’ve already said this but I’ll say it again. We have a long history of working with our many colleagues around the world even if our countries are at war or just political loggerheads. That should never change.
Help our users.
There are going to be a lot of confused and scared people out there and we can do what we do best by providing knowledge and information, no matter how small, from reliable sources without judgement or filtering. Misinformation is partly what created this whole mess in the first place.
Offer safe spaces.
As we have already seen, the most rotten parts of our society are surfacing in the wake of the referendum result with many people experiencing overt racism and persecution due to the colour of their skin, their EU nationality, their religion, or simply because they appear as ‘other’. This is completely against the British values that I stand for and we should offer refuge for those who are suffering whether they be users, colleagues, friends, or complete strangers.
Use our professional bodies to campaign.
Many of us have been completely screwed over by government cuts and the continued decimation of our library systems. While many groups have done amazing work to campaign for libraries and their value, some of this work has been disjointed. We cannot allow this disjointedness to seep into campaigning for what happens next with our EU membership. Regardless of how you voted, the nation should have the best deal possible and we all need to shout about that as individuals and as professional organisations.
Hold organisations accountable.
One thing I have been immediately concerned about when it comes to the professional impact of this vote is how it will affect my many STEM colleagues who I support and work with on a daily basis. Open Access, funding, publishing pressures…so many of these issues will be affected by whatever relationship we will eventually have with the EU and we cannot allow unscrupulous companies to take advantage of potential opportunities/absence of direction to weasel out of promises and agreements that we have fought so hard to achieve. I won’t spell this out but you will know what I mean from your own experiences. I can’t even begin to process how this will affect the wider university and research landscapes.
Regardless of how you voted, a lot of us are angry. While we are still in such an early stage that that anger is still raw and leading to tears and pits of despair, it is also fuel. So when you’ve cried out all your rage and feelings of betrayal, pick yourself up and pour that anger into pushing, campaigning, and fighting to keep this country together with its incredibly rich variety of people, nationalities, cultures, viewpoints, and experiences.
In the words of a superb individual who paid the ultimate price for this whole mess, MP Jo Cox:
We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.
Stay safe everyone.