Before I came to the Library, I was privileged to do communications work for UNICEF. A colleague of mine, Steve Cassidy, a former CNN newsman and the head of UNICEF’s electronic media programs, and I would discuss the concept of the “electronic hearth,” a phrase that had been used to describe television in America. Where once we gathered to listen to “fireside chats” over the radio, we began to congregate around the programming on the Big Three networks. It served as a common touchpoint for our diverse society, spread across multiple time zones. It spawned water-cooler talk and conversation fodder for parties.
Today, of course, much has changed. Hundreds if not thousands of TV channels, and the splintering of media in general, have made it harder to find those kinds of commonalities and references we could all point to.
But Steve pointed to the Internet as the new “electronic hearth.” While there are only a few blockbuster TV programs or major newspaper articles we might read today, the Internet has led to the proliferation of communities of interest. It has allowed ardent supporters of causes and concepts to gather at the micro level, to share, to reflect, to learn.
That was the goal we had almost four years ago when we began the Library’s blog. As I pointed out with pride at the time, we were a trail-blazer, and our social media presence has only continued to go. I have treasured the voluminous interaction I have had over that time with fans of the Library and our programs. The feedback was not always positive, but we welcomed it, and we benefited from it.
That’s why I now walk away from the warmth of that hearth, with mixed emotions, but an overriding sense of gratitude at having had the opportunity to share with you the wide-eyed enthusiasm of someone who was at the time a complete newbie to this amazing institution.
Today is my last day at the Library of Congress, and I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. The Internet engenders a sense of familiarity and closeness, perhaps sometimes only superficial or virtual. But it undeniably connects people, and it connects us to you.
I’m humbled at having had the privilege to convey as much information as I could about the Library of Congress, to let people know even basics, such as the fact that we are open to the public, and everything we do is free.
And I count myself lucky for having been able to bask in the warmth of the hearth.