Who should be in the library?


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.”

Shelf Life; Even a fading D.C. library still contains a multitude of unforgettable characters and surprising plot twists. And that’s before you get to the books: [FINAL Edition]

Wee, Eric L. The Washington Post; Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C]31 July 2005: WMAG.15.

Give ’em What They Want!


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

Berkeley Springs, West Virginia


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.

Value and Worth


One extremely important thing I’ve learned since starting to teach Public Libraries at Catholic University is that there is nothing new in public libraries. Everything we do now, every controversy, every success, and every scandal has happened before sometime in this nation’s history. And while the internet is new, fear of change is not. In the 1920s, the increased popularity of the radio caused some librarians to be concerned that it would “wean people away from the written word”. Do you hear the echo to the past that I hear?

I find this connection to the past very comforting. I am part of a long and strong tradition of librarians–flaws and all. Even down to this quote:

“It is the more intangible question of influence on the community and value to the individual. The library supplants the schools, extends their service through life, and takes their place. It serves as a center of recreation and inspiration, a storehouse of mental treasure available for the varied needs of our citizens. In arousing worthy interests and ambitions, satisfying mental longings, bringing practical advice, information, cheer and comfort to the average citizen, the library proves it’s value and worth.”

–Bangor (Maine) Public Library Director, 1927

(as always, thanks to the magnificent book Part of our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library by Wayne Wiegand)

Educational Book and Media Association Conference


Last week, I was fortunate to speak to educational publishers and wholesalers at the Educational Book and Media Association conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was on a panel with Kent Oliver, Director of the Nashville Public Library, Dr. Annie Norman, State Librarian of Delaware and the panel was moderated by Rebecca Miller, Editorial Director of Library Journal and School Library Journal.


Rebecca, me, Annie, Kent

The topic of our panel was Public Schools and Public Libraries: the logistics of partnerships. DCPL was asked to be on the panel because of the partnership we’ve been working on with DC Public Schools for the past couple of years. It’s still pretty much a baby project and we’ve had some bumps along the way. That’s probably why I was asked to lead the challenges section of the panel.


It’s hard to have a conversation with a few hundred participants but we did our best

I hope the participants found our panel helpful. I certainly learned quite a bit about the world of educational publishing. I learned that they are passionate about educational books and helping kids learn and grow but they know next to nothing about public libraries. They don’t know our funding structure, how we operate, or how we make decisions. I’m glad EBMA brought us in because as schools start to work with public libraries more and more, educational publishers will discover that we do things very differently than schools. I hope this opened the door for these conversations.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico


Of all the time I’ve spent outside of the U.S., most of that time has been in Mexico. From the first time I visited, I fell in love. I’ve spent most time traveling on my own but we decided to try an all-inclusive resort this year. And while I enjoyed it, it did not feel like the Mexico I love. The one day we left the resort and went into town, was great. And we were lucky enough to stumble on a public library!


A note about the election


I sent this note to the 400 Public Services staff at DCPL:

Hi everyone,
It’s been a week since the presidential election and I know many people are still processing what the change in administration will mean for D.C. and the country. I want to echo what Rich said in his Friday update—for DCPL and other libraries around the country, we continue to be committed to being a place of inclusion. This is not new to public libraries and we can see this commitment reflected in the work we do every day to create a safe space for our entire community. Many of you took the Public Library 101 training this year and I hope you see the connection between what you discussed there and our current landscape.
In this same spirit, I want to remind you of a couple of things. In order to be a welcoming place, we might have to put our own feelings about the election aside so that we can serve all people, whether we share their belief system or not. I think back to a question asked of me when I was working at the Central Library in Portland, Oregon. A gentleman asked me for books about White Power and it was pretty clear to me that he was not writing a research paper. Honestly, I didn’t want to help him find books that would help him hate other people. But I dug deep and remembered what the American Library Association Bill of Rights says,
Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves.
Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
It was my job then, and it is your job now, to create an environment where all people feel welcome. And as long as they follow our Rules of Behavior, their political beliefs shouldn’t influence the service we offer them and the environment we create. Please remember that our rules say that our users are not allowed to “Engag[e] in conduct that disrupts or interferes with the normal operation of the library, or disturbs library staff or customers, including but not limited to, conduct that involves the use of abusive or threatening language or gestures, conduct that creates unreasonable noise, or conduct that consists of loud or boisterous physical behavior or talking.” This includes hate speech and if you hear something that violates this rule, please either address it with the patron or let your manager know what you heard.
You should absolutely feel however you want to feel about the future of this country and the election. But now we must all dig deep and remember why the public library is so important to the fabric of this country. As former D.C. resident (and NW1 patron) David Kipen said in his LA Times editorial last week, “librarians may be the only first responders holding the line between America and a raging national pandemic of absolutism. More desperately than ever, we need our libraries now, and all three of their traditional pillars: 1) education, 2) good reading and 3) the convivial refuge of a place apart. In other words, libraries may be the last coal we have left to blow on.
We are quite often the only neutral place that people have in their lives. And by maintaining and honoring that space, we can make a difference. I urge you to keep this in mind as you talk with your coworkers, patrons, plan programs and displays. I have always and will always be proud to work in an institution like the public library.
Thank you for all that you do for our community,