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An Ambient Light

—Charles Henry

This is an introduction to a series of blogs meant to clarify CLIR’s working principles and goals for the next five years. The title is a metaphor for the general nature of this focus. Ambient light refers to illumination that is encircling, encompassing, and diffuse. In present usage, ambient also conveys motion. These characteristics of a surrounding light that is equitably distributed, impartially revealing, stable but not fixed, figuratively reflect the mission of all of CLIR’s programs, including the Digitization of Hidden Collections, Recordings at Risk, Postdoctoral Fellowships, Mellon Dissertation Fellowships, Leading Change Institute, Digital Library Federation, and Digital Library of the Middle East. While anchored in individual institutions, our projects strive to inculcate national and international communities of practice and collaborative coalitions of expertise in libraries, museums, archives, technology, government, industry, and diplomatic arenas. We cast a broad net with the understanding that no single profession or perspective can adequately respond to our current  challenges.

Construed within this metaphor, the two salient working frameworks for CLIR going forward are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and, relatedly, the positioning of CLIR as a dynamic organization rigorously responding to the threat to and loss of our global cultural heritage caused by climate change.

The rationale for these conceptual structures is multifaceted. The political environment of our world trends, sadly and disruptively, toward the re-imposition of boundaries—regional, racial, ethnic, religious, economic, and by gender—often resulting in stark inequality, abetting exploitation, abuse, and crimes against humanity. The imposition of hard lines and borders, both physical and ideological, is completely counter to the nature of digital technology and the encompassing projects CLIR fosters. A not-for-profit like CLIR is thus placed in a complex state: for our represented constituencies, we have a responsibility to recognize these roiling geopolitical circumstances as thoroughly discordant to our vision but also must remain cognizant of our non-partisan status. We cannot get involved in local politics, class or other hierarchical contestations, or regional and national movements.

We can, however, emphatically declare that CLIR will continue to host, promote, and facilitate projects and programs that dissolve boundaries and build open, globally accessible platforms for content, tools, and applications that enhance discovery, facilitate new knowledge, make accessible the achievements of our collective curiosity, and to nurture a more benevolent human capacity as a common good. Adopting key articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and assuming a major role in addressing and mitigating the predicted upending of our planet by climate change provide an unambiguous strategy. The UDHC is eloquent in positing the rights of every individual; the effects of climate change are global. The UDHC is an exemplary humanistic document that insists each of us is equal; the effects of climate change, similarly, do not distinguish lines on a map, color of skin, birthplace, or status. The ambient weave of the individual and the global is the space in which CLIR will continue, assertively and compassionately, to engage.


Editor’s note: Subsequent posts in this series will be published in early 2019.

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