The library is the ultimate civic commons; a place where all are welcomed to gather. That said, if you spend long enough working in a public library, you are bound to hear complaints about the homeless. These are not new. Communities have been complaining about homeless in the library as long as there have been public libraries in this country.
To me, community does not always look exactly how we want it to look. Community can be rough and challenging but that’s because as humans, we are not all the same. And the public library, because it’s a place for all, is the one place (besides maybe public transportation) where people from all walks of life come together and figures out what community really is.
I love this quote from a 2005 Washington Post article about a branch of the DC Public Library, “It’s one of the last outposts where a cross section of people still come together. It’s where Sarah was reading in groups with kids from wealthy families and those who were just getting by. It’s where they gathered on holidays for parties, where they caught up with neighbors during the weekly story times. And it’s a place that remembers them.”
Wee, Eric L. The Washington Post; Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C]31 July 2005: WMAG.15.
I believe in the power of reading to transform a life. This transformation can come from many different types of books and sometimes from books that many people might consider trash or unworthy of being read. There is a long history in public libraries of librarians trying to keep commonplace fiction off the shelves so people would be forced to read “quality” literature.
In 1992, revolutionary Library Director Charles Robinson said this, “We are always somewhat bemused by librarians who underestimate, or at least misjudge, the tastes of the public they serve. Our users are very often quite different from the kind of people who become librarians, and placing value judgements on other people’s interests and reading is certainly a violation of the intellectual freedom which librarians profess to hold so dear.”*
In other words, give them what they want and don’t judge. That one romance or western might not lead to transformation but over time, the power of storytelling and imagination will.
*Blue Ribbon Committee. Baltimore County Public Library, Give ‘Em What They Want! (Chicago: American Library Association, 1992), pp. 5-6
While our real estate agent tries to sell our house, Ry and I are spending the weekend with the dogs in Berkeley Springs, WV. I visited the state-run spa this morning for a hot springs soak and massage. I love the idea of a service like this being run by a government entity. Afterwards, I stumbled on the Morgan County Public Library. The original owner of the building was a signer of the Declaration of Independence! You don’t get that kind of history on the west coast.
I’m thrilled to announce that I have accepted the position of Library Director at the Fort Worth Public Library in Texas. I wasn’t looking to leave D.C. but I was enchanted by the people of Fort Worth and the opportunities for growth and change at the library system. My last day at DC Public Library is August 5th and we’ll be trucking down in an rv in mid-August.