At a standing-room only auditorium event at the 2015 ALA Annual Conference, feminist pioneer, writer, and activist Gloria Steinem talked about how her nomadic childhood echoed throughout her life, and read from her upcoming book My Life on the Road, which chronicles her peripatetic life as an organizer and spokeswoman for issues of equality. Steinem delivered a spirited and welcoming talk to the packed house, who cheered each time she praised librarians.
“I think your profession is the greatest profession on earth," she told librarians in the audience. "I really do want to emphasize, in case you’re feeling unappreciated, how important your role is. I’m here to make you not humble. You democratize knowledge. Nothing on earth is more important.”
Because her family moved around frequently, Steinem said she didn’t attend school until age 11, and described herself as “totally immersed in books” that were provided by libraries. “I was rescued by librarians,” she said. “It was librarians who said ‘maybe you would like to read The Hardy Boys as well as Nancy Drew.’ It is true for me, as for so many countless others, that librarians saved my life, my internal life.”
Over the course of her talk, Steinem celebrated the recent SCOTUS ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, highlighted censorship issues, recalling her work at Ms. Magazine, the groundbreaking feminist magazine she co-founded in 1972, and praising activists in the nearby Mount Diablo school district for their fight decades ago to in keep the magazine in their county’s school libraries after fundamentalists sought to ban it. She also mourned the recent murders in Charleston, asserting that guns are often used in the “service of supremacy” with respect to race and gender. “Only in libraries might one learn that the much lauded Second Amendment, our so called right to arms, has its origins in racism, and is what lawyers call 'the fruit of the poison tree,'" she said. "I don’t think I would have known that without libraries.”
She also had some recommended reading for the crowd: Sex and World Peace by Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett, and The Mermaid and the Minotaur by Dorothy Dinnerstein. And she touched on the technological changes facing libraries in the digital age, emphasizing the continued importance that physical libraries have as community hubs, and centers of information and dialogue.
"Pressing send," she said, "is not organizing,” adding that while she reveres the written word, “something happens in a room" that can’t happen on a page. “I hope that as we democratize knowledge we also understand the importance of libraries as places where we can physically come together."