When an outspoken feminist writer from Chicago's South Side who "lives and dies with the Cubs" has penned 15 novels featuring an outspoken female character who happens to live on Chicago's South Side and is a die-hard Cubs fan, a distinction between the creation and the creator can sometimes be hard to draw.
"People often ask me if V.I. is my alter ego," said Sara Paretsky, author of the V.I Warshawski detective series, during the 2012 McCusker Lecture at Dominican University. "She is not. She is my voice. And she will not be silenced."
The importance of voice and empowering all voices—not just those who are regularly heard in society—was the key message in Paretsky's lecture, which was co-sponsored by Dominican's Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the Freedom to Read Foundation.
She spoke of the importance of lending voice to those not otherwise heard and of the natural ally that libraries have been in that effort.
From the Soviet Gulag to Nazi fascism to the more local example of a Chicago Police Department officer who didn't speak out about the torture of witnesses she'd heard, Paretsky spoke to the danger that comes when those in power are allowed to silence the voices of others.
The library, Paretsky said, has been a steadfast oppositional force to the imposition of too-mighty powers, from the stand librarians have taken against measures of the PATRIOT Act to their resistance of censorship to their commitment to keeping collections that represent a variety of perspectives.
But even some seemingly less insidious forces have made it more difficult for some literary voices to be heard, she said.
She recalled an encounter she had when she ran into a friend after visiting the library to research her lecture.
"I love the University of Chicago Library," she told her friend. "It's full of books."
While her friend laughed at the seemingly obvious statement, libraries without books are becoming closer to reality as many are being forced to downsize physical collections or move them to remote facilities as cost-saving measures.
Still, libraries remain committed to offering the best access possible to the world's information resources, while retail sellers have focused a disproportionate amount of attention on those titles and authors likely to be the most profitable, she said.
"There is a serious question. How do we hear new voices or less popular voices? We also want access to older books—those that don't bubble up to the front page through an algorithm," she said.
Since moving to Chicago in the 1960s to work as a community organizer under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Paretsky, like her character, has been an advocate for those she feels are too often overlooked in our society.
She is a member of the national Board of Advocates for Planned Parenthood and previously served with then-state Senator Obama on the board of Thresholds, an organization that serves Chicago’s mentally ill homeless.
In 2001, she established the Sara and Two C-Dogs Foundation, which primarily supports girls and women in the arts, letters, and sciences. She also has worked extensively with inner-city children in Chicago through Girls in the Game, which provides and promotes sports and fitness opportunities for girls, as well as Project Exploration, which introduces at-risk kids in inner-city schools to science.
She urged those in the audience to be brave in speaking out for the rights of others and against those who would silence them. From writers to community organizers to librarians, everyone can play a role, she said.
"We're not the only people who have lived during difficult times. But some of the things that have happened in the past 10 years or so are really terrible," she said. "I think librarians are among the true heroes of our contemporary age."