Former president Barack Obama was this year’s closing speaker at the American Library Association Annual conference on Tuesday. In a wide-ranging virtual conversation with Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie G. Bunch III, he discussed misinformation, racial justice, and (shocker) his memoir. In keeping with his audience, he also emphasized the importance of libraries in such a politically polarized moment:
We’re going to have work to do in rebuilding that unifying story of America. And since we’re talking to a bunch of librarians, I just want to let them know what they do is more important than ever. Figuring out how do we provide our fellow citizens with a shared set of baseline narratives around which we can make our democracy work.
In a time of political disinformation, facts, history, and archival research are crucial. The full 40-minute talk isn’t currently available to view, but we can watch Obama’s closing remarks, where he thanked all librarians for “opening up the world for our children” and “creating safe spaces”: