I've been thinking a great deal about the concept of safe spaces lately. What a huge relief to see statements from our organizations start to come about. If you haven't yet, check out the statements by both ALA and PLA. One particular paragraph from the PLA statement stands out to me,
As such, our nation’s public libraries stand as a bulwark to intolerance and a beacon of opportunity. We are committed to ensuring a safe place for all that reflects and serves the diversity of our nation in our collections, programs and services. With thousands of public libraries in towns and neighborhoods across the country, we invite community conversations and action that further understanding and address local needs.”
What a strong and totally badass statement about the role of public libraries in the United States right now. It makes me want to stand on my chair and scream YES.
But I also think this is a call to action for public libraries. If we are going to call ourselves a safe place then we have to be ready - ready to support, intervene, to act, to educate, and to possibly offend people by stating that racism and bigotry is not allowed in the library. It blows my mind that right now saying that racism and bigotry isn't allowed in an institution is considered a partisan act by some because the fact is that it is not partisan. In fact, most public libraries already have something along these lines in their behavior policies. This isn't new. But actually enforcing this rule may be new for some and the time is now to enforce it.
Yes, libraries are for everyone. But far too often for fear of conflict, public libraries and librarians use that statement as a shield to hide and avoid. And when we do this we fail to protect our community from hate speech and bullying. It is too easy to say 'everyone' but really mean people of privilege - people who are yelling the loudest.
Another statement from the ALA statement stood out to me,
As an association representing these libraries, librarians and library workers, ALA believes that the struggle against racism, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination is central to our mission. As we have throughout our 140 year-long history, we will continue to support efforts to abolish intolerance and cultural invisibility, stand up for all the members of the communities we serve, and promote understanding and inclusion through our work.
That's a strong statement. It says that we will stand up. We will support efforts against racism. Let that sink in. Realize what that means. That means action. It's too easy not to act. And if we are truly going to be a safe place for our community, it's time to put our feet down and say "Enough."
So what does this look like? In my library it looks like programming and support groups and conversations and statements and equipping staff with the means to deal with discriminatory behaviors. It means taking a serious look at ourselves as workers to recognize our own biases and work beyond them. And it is hard work. But it's worth it. We owe this to our communities.
I spent some time yesterday in a YWCA facilitated discussion at my library. (This partnership is a good example of something libraries can do.) The goal is to learn how to talk through issues of racism and equity instead of around them. And it was a productive and sometimes emotional discussion. Not everyone agreed but it was civil and well moderated. And the topic of the safety pin came up. The facilitator from the YWCA brought up an important point - it's a good idea but be ready to act. If you are calling yourself an ally, if you are a safe person for people who are experiencing oppression, be ready. Don't just wear it to make yourself feel better.
The same can be said for public libraries - do not call yourself a safe place unless you intend to actually be one.
Are you doing something at your library that creates a safe space for all? Please share below in the comments.
During my time as the Head of Popular Materials at the Ela Area Public Library, I oversaw and managed passport service. I also oversaw a significant increase in this service, to the point where a big part of my mission became recruiting area libraries to get on board.
Why? Mainly because people need it so desperately but there are many reasons to add passport service to your community. Simply put, the post office is no longer able to maintain it's place as the nearly sole provider of this service. Their severe budget cuts impacts front-line staffing the most and those front-line workers are the ones who process passports. So they need our help.
Also it helps you bring difficult to reach populations into the library, often those who need the library the most, like immigrants, new citizens, or people who may not be citizens but their children are. Sometimes these patrons come from countries where a public library system may not exist, so this is an opportunity! You bring people in for passport service but also introduce them to all the library offers - ESL classes, voter registration, lifelong learning, programs, books, etc. And considering recent events, introducing new Americans to a welcoming, inclusive community is more important than ever.
Passports also helps to bring in people who think they don’t need the library - people who generally buy things and have the kind of disposable income that enables them to travel. These people frequently don’t even know what the library does anymore. Passport service brings value to those people and also helps educate them about all the things they can do at the library beyond their preconceived notions.
Is equity a part of your mission as an organization? Then providing this service is vital. Most facilities, like a local clerk offices or post offices, offer extremely limited hours that only people privileged enough to have paid time off can afford. Weekdays during work hours and appointment only. Someone with multiple jobs and no paid time off cannot come in Monday through Thursday between 9am and 1pm, in addition to the hassle of getting their children out of school for the day. For working families on a limited income, this can have a major impact on their lives. Now I don’t know the hours of all of your libraries but I’m willing to bet you have a least a few evenings where you’re open and at least one of the weekend days. This is why your patrons and the State Department needs you to add passport service. Nights and weekends, which provides equitable access to this important citizen service.
The increase in foot traffic has a positive ripple effect on the other stats throughout the library. The Ela Library has seen an increase in the following stats: passive programs and crafts, drop in programs, library card holders, registered cards from other libraries, circulation, notary services, voter registration, and a record breaking door count. And to top it off, there is a financial benefit to being a passport processing facility as well. Currently, the Library makes $25 per application. Considering that we processed 7,493 passports last year? Well, I'll let you do the math on that.
So if all of this sounds like a service you're interested in adding, here are some useful resources for you:
One of the things I'm developing in my new role at the Skokie Public Library is internal leadership training. So this morning, I was reading Leading Change by John P. Kotter, which is a really fantastic book, but it got me thinking.
I realized that almost all the books I've read on leadership until this point have been written by white men. And as I started looking around a bit, I found that whole lot of what is considered to be classic writting on the topic is pretty white and very male. So I did what I always do in times like this - I asked for help.
The responses and feedback (which are still coming) are outstanding. And a few really excellent points were brought up within the conversation. First, lots of texts that revolve around leadership topics by women and people of color are not considered books about leadership, which is frustrating but also makes them harder to find. And the books that are "leadership for the rest of us" type stuff are often about changing yourself to fit into a patriarchal structure. Two of my favorite library leaders and friends put it this way.
This means there is no quick fix for finding these resources. Which leads me to this post. Here is a collection of what was suggested. I'll add more as more things get suggested and hopefully this will become a living list. And if you have any thoughts or resources, please share them in the comments below. I'll work them into the list too.
Enjoy. Learn. And hopefully, lead.
Last updated: 12/2/16