Sunday, August 18, 2013

One library at a time

A little over 7 years ago, the nonprofit where I work moved into a new building that is located directly across the street from one of our city's public libraries. In the spirit of being a good neighbor, I went for a visit to introduce myself to the director. As we talked, she said that one of their biggest challenges was unruly kids in the library disrupting other patrons. As a matter of fact, things often got so out of control that they had to call the police to intervene.

I told her that - given that our agency's mission was "to redirect youth who are starting to get in trouble at home, at school or with the law" - I thought we could help. And so we got her staff together to provide some training/consultation. This issue was only partly about librarians not being trained in behavior management, it was also infused with the reality that most of the unruly youth were black and the librarians were white. What we might call these days the "Trayvon affect" was kicking in and so part of our task was to humanize these young people.

That experience was so successful that this particular library went from calling the police once a day on average to going a whole summer with not one call. It also meant that we went on to work with several other libraries in this community and around the country (we're also doing this work with schools and other after-school programs).

But our work with the library across the street didn't end there. They're now working with us to provide jobs to some of the youth we work with.

There are times I get discouraged about the state of race relations in our country. I see the entrenched fear and privilege that is both individually and systemically built into our culture. And then I think about things like this story and remember that at some point I have to quit screaming about it, get up off my butt, and do library at a time.


  1. Bravo to all! We have so succeeded in demonizing especially Black youth that we fail entirely to see them as kids. If you really pay attention, much of what is perceived as delinquent behavior is not - it's hijinks just as white kids do. Sometimes it includes laughter if we'd only listen. Let adults - especially "outsiders" - swoop down and clamp down without any alternatives or respect, well, then it becomes hostile. Who wouldn't react with anger and hostility when treated, always, as a creep?

    Your solutions begin with respecting kids' humanity and giving alternatives not abuse. Thank you for reinstating clarity of vision, real solutions, and possibilities for these kids. Rather than trying to clamp down on them, you gave them the ways to fly in creative directions. That liberates the librarians, too. Humanity matters on all sides.

  2. On behalf of everyone involved ...'Thank you!'

    1. What VC and Churchlady said.