LOR, P. J. (2016). Risks and Benefits of Visibility: Librarians Navigating Social and Political Turbulence. Library Trends, 65(2), 108-127.
The deliberate burning of libraries is nothing new, but it seems surprising that such incidents have also occurred in peacetime in democracies. What does this say about community perceptions of libraries and the response of the library profession? Mostly, libraries are not very newsworthy. In some countries they are largely invisible; in others they may only attract public attention when they are threatened by cutbacks or closures or when things go badly wrong. The visibility and invisibility of libraries in the political arena confer risks, as well as benefits. As a framework for an exploration of this topic, libraries in various countries are conceptualized as being located in the political space on a continuum, from invisible to highly visible, on which the risks of visibility and invisibility can be situated. Some observations, with particular reference to library development in South Africa, follow on how librarians see themselves and their institutions in relation to the communities and societies they serve. This paper concludes that the risks of invisibility outweigh those of visibility, but that the political awareness, engagement, and commitment of the library profession are critical.