Leipzig, March 14, 2016
Chargé Kent Logsdon
President Lorenzen, members of the German library community, ladies and gentlemen, my colleagues and I join ALA President Sari Feldman in thanking the BID for inviting the United States to be the partner country in this year’s Bibliothekskongress. It’s a great honor.
Libraries play an important role in American society – and Americans are very proud both of what they do at home and their reputation in countries around the world. For that reason, it’s not unusual that libraries are seen as important public diplomacy partners by the U.S. Department of State.
In fact, the Amerika Haus libraries that were opened in a number of cities in the American zone shortly after the end of World War II sparked an initiative that spread to U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. And like so many library users, diplomats learned a lot at the library. We learned that you can’t make policy just by talking to governments. As one of the first directors of U.S. public diplomacy efforts observed: the crucial link in international dialogue is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact – one person talking to another. Today a number of the original Amerikahäuser still exist as binational centers in a State Department America Space network. And I am delighted to say that one of the newest American Spaces is the Leipzig University Library.
The Embassy and our Consulates have also developed close relationships with libraries around the country. Again, one of the first such partnerships proved to be a model, not only for cooperation, but most important, as a model for the special role that libraries play in society. Right after the Berlin Blockade ended in May 1949, the American government offered funding to the City of Berlin for a cultural project. Mayor Ernst Reuter had just returned from a trip to the United States and decided that what Berlin needed most was an American-style public library – a library where people had the freedom to read, to learn, and to study whatever they wanted. That’s what libraries are. They are places of freedom; and they play an essential role in a democratic society.
Today at the turn of the 21st century, librarians in both of our countries are opening new doors to learning, culture, and ideas; for example, through virtual channels which bring a whole new dimension to the last three feet of a conversation.
Libraries today, however, are also faced with an enormous challenge that is not new. In fact, it belongs to one of the oldest and most basic functions of any library – and that is the task of welcoming and integrating newcomers in our societies. In an ideal world, this belongs to the mission of libraries everywhere. Certainly, librarians in both Germany and the United States are living up to those ideals. Integration happens at the local level; and libraries serve as accessible and trusted spaces for immigrants to learn and succeed. I commend German librarians for all that you are doing to assist refugees in your communities – and look forward to learning more about your activities this afternoon.
Sari Feldman says libraries are community anchors. This congress proves, they are anchors not only in a national, but a truly international, network. Sari also says, by the way, that ALA members are kind of noisy – despite the stereotype that some people have about librarians. So make some noise. Let’s get loud. You are doing great work and you have got a lot to say. All the best for a successful Bibliothekskongress 2016.