The Importance of Libraries in Times of Crisis
Last year, my area was hit by an ice storm that knocked out power to a huge swath of people — people of all ages, races, economic classes. It was out for days, during a cold snap (that “polar vortex” of lore) that meant temperatures dipped into the single digits, and even the negatives, every day. My library, through some bit of luck, retained power and heat.
Soon, we were crowded with people who might never have otherwise set foot in the library. As the days without power or heat dragged on, we saw people who previously may never have interacted crowding together, laughing and talking as they charged their phones and checked their email. I ran around town to whatever shops were open to collect power strips, extension cords, and a few urns of coffee and hot cocoa. I worked with local disaster relief agencies to direct people to warm shelters and relayed information on when power was going to be restored. We served our community.
The Ferguson public library is open today, in spite of the state of emergency. Schools may be closed, but the library is there, providing kids with a place to go, books to read, and programs to take part in. It is there, with public computers to email loved ones from, or to tweet from and put perspective on what’s happening out into the world in a safe environment. It is there, calm, filled with that warm kind of musty smell that comes from stacks of books that have lived together on shelves for a long time. It is serving its community.
The library is unique in that it has the potential to be truly unbiased and apolitical. It it one of the few spaces in the world that can stand for itself and provide, or try to provide, all things for all people. A good library has open doors. Librarians are not guardians of information, but oracles, guiding their patronage through their personal quests — whether that is research, computer help, or just a space to sit. It is my sincerest hope that the Ferguson Library is being all things for all people today. That those who use it are implementing the tools it provides and learning about their rights and history and trying to figure out where to go from there.
You probably already know that libraries are woefully underfunded. Consider sending a few dollars to the Ferguson Library so that they can continue to provide their community with what they need to feel safe and informed during this time of crisis. Send books (I’ve been told they especially need YA. I’ll be sending a box of novels and comics later this afternoon), or shop from their wishlist and have it sent directly from Powell’s. So many of us are feeling helpless today, and the Library is an excellent place to apply your desire to help. In that way, they are serving a community much larger than their own: those who want to support a town that has faced a grievous injustice and is at the beginning of a healing process that will be a long, hard journey.