In those terms did Nicholas Poole, Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), begin an admiring tweet on 28 February, after an event cancellation message from the equivalent body in Ukraine. His tweet went viral, attracting over 200,000 likes.
A vital role
CILIP had issued its own statement on the war earlier in the day. This was longer and more serious, and it offered support and solidarity to Ukraine on the basis of what libraries are and what they are for. It contained this paragraph:
… Librarians, archivists and information professionals play a vital role in promoting reading, literacy and access to information for the citizens and communities they serve. It is essential that they are permitted to continue this work in safety and free from coercion or threat….Nick Poole
This statement is still open for signature, and as of 5 March had attracted around 1000 names, mostly from the UK, but increasingly from other parts of the world.
The UK’s Council for Slavonic and East European Library and Information Services, which is open to all libraries in the UK, has a blog post detailing international data rescue and archiving initiatives concerned with preserving cultural records in Ukraine.
Library solidarity with Ukraine is not only a matter of support for the libraries there. Libraries in the UK have also a part to play here. ILIG is the International Library and Information Group — not an international body but a special-interest network for CILIP members who have international interests. ILIG Chair Lesley Pitman has issued ILIG’s own statement on the war.
The statement includes links to various initiatives that have begun as a response to the war, and with them this sentence:
Many of our libraries also have fine traditions of acting as places of sanctuary for refugees, wherever in the world they are.CILIP
The wording points to the Libraries of Sanctuary movement, a network of librarians and others devoted to raising awareness of the problems faced by people going through the asylum system and its intentionally hostile environment. Libraries of Sanctuary’s home page shows library posts from across the broader City of Sanctuary network, including a list of actions to take to support refugees from Ukraine.
They are worth summarising here:
- Donate to a trusted organisation already working in Ukraine
- Ask your MP to ask the government to do all in its power to help those fleeing Ukraine
- Sign a petition (e.g. change.org: Tell the UK govt: Help Ukrainian refugees!)
- Join a local demo or vigil
- Pace yourself
- Get your news from a reputable source
- Show solidarity to *all* refugees, not just Ukrainians
- Be patient and be kind, long-term
But ILIG’s statement goes further. Again, it’s a matter of recognising the enormous power of libraries to be agents, or more often matrices, of change in the world. Specifically:
Other ways we can help as library and information professionals include, of course, using our information skills to share accurate information, and to collect and archive that information for the medium term, when it can be used as evidence, and for the long term to be used by historians once these terrible events are behind us.
Let’s hope that the medium term and the long term are continents we get to.
Aidan Baker is Vice-Chair of ILIG. He writes in a personal capacity.