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.