Because our culture is so divided now, the role of public libraries as an anchor in our communities is even more important. Libraries are not only the center of our communities. They help us stay grounded. Public libraries are safe zones, places where all people are welcome and included. Places where it is safe to explore different cultures, food, and religions. Places to be introduced to ideas that might be different. Places where it is safe to have conversations with people you might not know and who you might disagree with. Places of civic discourse.
Brendan Dowling Author Archive
In the wake of the net neutrality repeal, now more than ever, public libraries need to rise to the challenge of engaging in digital justice work. As librarians, we know that the repeal of net neutrality hurts all of us. However, in a climate of increasing inequality and opportunity gaps, marginalized communities, especially people of color, low-income households, and rural communities, are primed to be most negatively impacted by the FCC’s egregious party-line decision.
During the past year, the public discourse on sexual harassment and gender-based abuse of power has shifted. Women’s marches, the social media #MeToo movement, and the public condemnation of high-profile individuals accused of sexual misconduct have disrupted the nation’s previously accepted complacency and led to demands for accountability. While the national focus on sexual harassment represents an elevated platform and increased visibility for (primarily white) women speaking out against gender oppression, it has yet to translate into a mass movement for pay equity, improved workplace conditions, increased access to childcare, reproductive freedom, and an end to violence against and exploitation of women. This is a case where the individual actions are receiving a lot of attention, but we are in danger of missing the deeper institutional and structural drivers of persistent and entrenched gender inequity.
In 2017, Seattle Public Library (SPL) staff spent the year exploring the social impact of mass incarceration in our city and country. This project marked the second year
that a civic topic was selected to explore through a series designed to empower and center communities throughout Seattle.1 The Criminal Justice Series leveraged traditional engagement techniques that reflect libraries’ “bread and butter” work of information sharing, awareness raising, and enrichment, including public programs, a social media campaign, art exhibit, and related booklists. What made it noteworthy as an instrument of civic engagement was that it relied on a community-led process that placed individuals who are directly affected by criminal justice at the center of program development while library staff played a supporting role.
If you’ve worked with young people for just about any length of time, a teenager has likely shared something painful with you and you may have felt momentarily powerless to help them. I experienced a moment like that on an afternoon when I heard a small group of young teens in my library branch discussing police brutality. I sat down with the teens that day and I listened. They were furious, frustrated, and sad. Absorbing their words and their feelings, I felt those same emotions. I also felt helpless. Their pain was so large and I felt so small in that moment.
This winter, Brooklyn Public Library partnered with Bard College to invite students who have faced multiple barriers to higher education to enroll in free, credit-bearing classes taught by Bard faculty at our Central Library. Recently, some of us got a chance to meet the new cohort of seventeen students over lunch. It was the students’ second day of classes. The students were excited or nervous (or both) and were talkative and appreciative of the library and how welcoming it was. They all seemed to share a readiness to jump into reading, discussing, and learning about new ideas, and developing and expanding upon their own. This is a group, like other groups of college students, where lifelong friendships are bound to form.
Before we get started, I’d like to settle us on some terms. We hear words such as mindfulness, contemplation, contemplative practice, reflection, and space-making floating around the workplace, and for some they mean very specific things. Reflection may be a specified process one goes through to review past actions. Mindfulness may be an Eastern philosophy or simply a way to be especially thoughtful. For this column, I’d like to flatten them all into the following common definition: “awareness of the present moment.” So, for example, “I’m contemplating,” means, “I’m aware of the present moment.” (As opposed to thinking deeply or ruminating about the past or imagining the future.) For me, these words all point to a way of being instead of doing. And I’m especially interested in how librarians can be more, instead of do more.
I struggled with a fitting topic for this final column and tossed aside many ideas that didn’t seem to impart a sense of closure. So I’m going to leave you with a few of my current favorite things and some items that are never off my radar.
PAM SMITH is Director of Anythink Libraries in Thornton (CO). Contact Pam at psmith@anythink libraries.org. Pam is currently reading Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit by Chris Matthews. This has been the year of strategic planning at Anythink Libraries, where I work. The Anythink Board of Trustees challenged our team to reinvent the library once again, […]
PLA commissioned ORS Impact to interview participating libraries and community stakeholders to create five success case studies for its performance measurement initiative, Project Outcome (PO). PO is a free online toolkit designed to help public libraries understand and share the impact of essential library programs and services by providing simple surveys and an easy-to-use process for measuring and analyzing outcomes. What PLA learned from the case studies is that, even with limited survey responses, libraries are able to leverage their outcome data into actionable results. By using Project Outcome surveys, libraries are tracking their impact across time; improving and expanding programs and services to meet community needs; supporting new and deepen- ing existing partnerships; and increasing library championship.
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s stunning Z is For Zebra introduces an unforgettable character with Zebra, a 22-year-old literary prodigy from Iran. When Zebra’s father dies, she decides to retrace her family’s journey from Iran to New York. She soon finds herself in Catalonia, where she becomes entangled with Ludo, a hapless philologist who challenges Zebra’s more intellectually insular existence. Steeped in literature, Zebra confidently holds forth on topics such as displacement, war, and sexuality in a manner that is sure to captivate readers. Van der Vliet Oloomi’s was named one of the National Book Award’s “35 Under 35,” and Z is for Zebra was named by a Most Anticipated Title of 2018 by the Boston Globe, Nylon, Book Riot, and The Millions.
Maurene Goo’s effervescent I Believe In A Thing Called Love centers around Desi, a phenomenally talented high school senior whose one weakness is her disastrous interactions with the opposite sex. Determined to have a romantic relationship before she graduates high school, Desi turns to her beloved K Dramas for inspiration. Armed with a list of K Drama tropes to serve as guidance, Desi sets her sights on Luca, the dreamy new transfer student with a mysterious past. What follows is both a hilarious romantic comedy but also a sweet tribute to the powerful bonds high school students have with their friends and parents. I Believe in a Thing Called Love earned starred reviews from both Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, and was named one of The Best Books for Teens 2017 by the New York Public Library.
Every Single One of Us has a Role to Play in Solving this Crisis: Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on Childhood Adversity
When Dr. Nadine Burke Harris opened her pediatric practice in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point, she soon noticed a correlation between patients who had experienced some sort of trauma early in life and their physical health. Her resulting research, which built upon the Adverse Childhood Experiences study performed in the 1990s, led to her groundbreaking The Deepest […]
Emilio Estevez’ The Public, an earnest film about an eventful two days in the life of a public librarian, had its world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Tuesday night. The film centers around Stuart Goodson, a city librarian whose pragmatic and equitable approach to his job is seen from the film’s beginning. He diffuses a dispute involving a mentally ill patron with the same patience that he uses to mentor a colleague through a career transition. In these early scenes, Estevez captures the day-to-day actions in a library with an almost documentary-like quality. We see librarians interact with an array of patrons in a variety of ways, and a montage of absurd reference questions serves as a way to illustrate the breadth of services librarians offer as well as provide some comic relief.
No matter the size of the library or the population it serves, all public libraries are working toward a common goal—providing relevant and impactful services in areas most important to patrons. As we strive to be a data-driven organization at Sno-Isle Libraries in Snohomish and Island Counties, WA, it is our job to make sure our programs are allocating the right amount of resources to our highest priority services and addressing the needs and interests of our communities. And we need the data to show it.