The public library is a go-to place for communities seeking social change to learn, plan, and exercise our rights in the face of widening concerns over police brutality.
The Library as Refuge
A recent Public Libraries Online, The Little Library That Lent a Hand, detailed how the Ferguson Municipal Public Library District in Missouri remained open during the recent protests, encouraging protesters to take refuge in the library as a quiet place to ponder, a safe area, and even as a space for learning and meals when schools were closed. We celebrated the library director, Scott Bonner, for remaining open as an oasis to those exercising their rights. He is amongst the 2015 Library Journal Movers & Shakers.
The Library as Educator about Rights
Public libraries across the country have gone even further to aid communities working for social change. The New Orleans Public Library has hosted “Know Your Rights” seminars for teens and adults in partnership with the New Orleans Police Department. It offered an opportunity for communities to meet and foster relationships with officers from the local precinct. Moreover, residents could ask real world questions such as those listed on the publicity flyer, “Do I have to show my ID?”, “What does reasonable suspicion mean?,” and “When does an officer need a warrant to perform a search?”
Oakland Public Library responded with “Listen, Learn, Participate: #BlackLivesMatter,” an ongoing series of programs. OPL has placed itself directly into the center of the community, providing information and discussion on issues surrounding racial inequality. They are hosting lectures, documentary films, and maintaining an online finding aid for researchers seeking to learn more through the libraries collections. Read more about their work at http://www.oaklandlibrary.org/blogs/from-main-library/listen-learn-particiate-blacklivesmatter-event-series. Similarly, the Multnomah Public Library in Portland, Oregon established a resource page for researchers studying the issues at https://multcolib.org/blog/20141211/%E2%80%9Ci-can%E2%80%99t-breathe%E2%80%9D .
William “Billy” Martin, renowned civil rights attorney and guest on MSNBC’s Politics Nation, presented “Is Stand Your Ground Law a Great Idea Today?” at the DC Public Library. In Wisconsin, public librarians partnered with the ACLU to host “Know Your Rights! AN ACLU Workshop at Milwaukee Public Libraries,” a series of discussions in English and Spanish.
The Library as a Launch Pad for Civic Engagement and Civil Rights
A group called “Utah Against Police Brutality” held a series of planning and organizing meetings at the Salt Lake City Public Library. Partnering with the Salt Lake City Tribune, the group held the “Town Hall Meeting on Deadly Force: A Community Response to Police Shootings” also at the Salt Lake City Public Library.
Minneapolis high school students gathered in front of the Minneapolis Central Library on Nicollet Mall to share poetry and remarks before marching around the downtown area to protest the recent deaths of unarmed black men Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner of New York City. A group of Activists calling themselves “First Night against Police Violence” planned a “die-in” to protest police brutality in front of the Boston Public Library in the Copley Square Area during the First Night celebration to celebrate the New Year.
Customers are turning to public libraries as an oasis for information, and even as a place to express their civil rights. Many public libraries are taking the lead in educating customers about their civil rights and supporting the community. How is your library responding?
“Is Stand Your Ground Law a Great Idea Today?,” http://dclibrary.org/node/46956
Kristina G, on Jan 13, 2015 (8:30 AM) “Know Your Rights! An ACLU Workshop at Milwaukee Public Libraries / Conozca sus Derechos! Un Taller en Milwaukee Public Library,” http://www.mpl.org/blog/now/know-your-rights-an-aclu-workshop-at-milwaukee-public-libraries-conozca-sus-derechos-un-taller-en-milwaukee-public-library
Lonetree, Anthony. “Students rally in Minneapolis against police brutality,” Star Tribune Updated: December 8, 2014 (5:15AM) http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/285041591.html
“Police Brutality Town Hall,” Salt Lake City Weekly. http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/police-brutality-town-hall/Event?oid=2720511
Quinn, Garrett “Protests against war, police brutality planned around Boston First Night activities,” December 29, 2014 (6:31 PM) http://www.masslive.com/news/boston/index.ssf/2014/12/protests_against_war_police_brutality_first_night_boston_2015.html
“What Libraries Do: Scott Bonner, Ferguson Municipal Public Library, MO,” Library Journal, Movers and Shakers 2015, Community Builders: March 15, 2015. p. 58 Volume 140, No. 5.
Zeman, Marybeth. “The Little Library That Lent a Hand: Ferguson Municipal Public Library,”: Public Libraries Online, February 12, 2015. https://publiclibrariesonline.org/2015/02/the-little-library-that-lent-a-hand-ferguson-municipal-public-library/