We librarians often like to talk about the library as a place. A place for people to gather regardless of belief or opinion or whether you have pocket change; a place for people to learn. All are welcome.
When sharing this concept of the library as a place with friends, family, colleagues from other departments in past and generally get the same response. A friendly smile and nod of the head, essentially a mild agreement, a sort of “what a nice thought, now let’s move on.”
I manage my local community library, which means I have the privilege of seeing my actual neighbors everyday at work. I hear about what they are doing, what they are looking for, what their families are up to. I also serve strangers who are passing through, people whose printer broke that day, parents who didn’t use the library in their 20s but are now bringing their kids for story-time.
Of course all of this ended 4 weeks ago, since then we have been closed to the public, still offering online services, virtual reference, Facebook Live story-times, and curbside pick-up. I have to admit this has not been easy, and I realized recently that I’ve been grieving what has been lost during this pandemic. I’ve had to deliver bad news to people I care about, I’ve felt scared and tired and frustrated. I have kept going, because really what other choice is there?
And yet, I’ve found hope, specifically through my work. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told “Thank you for doing this”, but I would guess it’s more than 100 times. A group of local women bought staff cookies from the neighborhood coffee shop. Another patron was nearly in tears thanking me for teaching her over the phone how to access the library’s eBook collection. People are finding comfort and a sense of normalcy from the library services we are providing. We have seen this before, during a particularly bad hurricane 9 years ago most of the community lost power, some lost water. There were shelters, but instead people flocked to the library as a place to shelter, to re-charge, to gather. Now we are in another storm, and although we can’t physically be the place for people to be, we are finding that we are still a key source of emotional support for the people we serve. Through the hardest moments I am reminded of this quote from Lewis Carroll:
One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.
This crisis will end, no telling how or when but it will eventually end and we will find ourselves on the other side of this. When it does, my hope is that the community will understand that we are better together, and that the library is a key component of what unites us. I see now even more than before that the library as a place is the core of what we do. The library represents the very best of a community can do when we work together, it is a place that provides knowledge, peace, and now, hope.