Today’s libraries

Tears came to the library director’s eyes as he read about the small businesses that had been vandalized or looted in the city. The sentiment was that the city was one of owners of small business. His family had owned a small business.

I work in a library as a clerk, dealing with a public that seems to see libraries as the last truly democratic community base. People use it to apply for jobs, given all applications are online now, and not accessible from cheap phones. They ask for help paying bills using the library’s fax machine. They use the library’s notaries to make legal the documents our society demands of those living close to the edge.

Librarians get trained in dealing with a public in crisis, a public that’s always recovering from trauma. That public has been traumatized by the closing of its public spaces for months now, with re-opening to focus on curbside pickups and appointments. To dissuade the public from using its branches as a hangout, our library is taking out its comfortable seating and locking all bathrooms.


Like most libraries these days, ours has been weeding out less popular books and movies. Goodbye, Balzac and James Baldwin, time for more James Patterson and Urban Fiction. Stephen King is now a classic author.

Kids’ games and toys are banned because of germs. It’s part of a great Library Science directive to become more efficient.

Decisions regarding these community spaces are confined within Library Science, increasing the sense of distance between librarians and those using libraries. Troublesome kids? Instead of asking the kids for their ideas, the libraries put bans in place. Too many homeless, too much loudness? Take out the chairs and bathrooms. Restrict access.

Instead of wishing their libraries were in small towns or suburbs, it’s too bad the library director’s piece didn’t take this moment to realize the role libraries play in the cities now releasing so much pent-up anger. Too bad we’re so trained to side with our business owners, the source of our incomes, rather than the people who make up our communities.

The only way to break the current tension is to start recognizing everyone’s dignity, and sharing the processes for all our decision-making … including what books we keep to show a community’s sense of culture and pride, as well as whether people deserve chairs and bathrooms.

Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.

There is one comment

  1. Charlotte Murphy

    Now, more than ever, is not the time for “weeding out” of any books by James Baldwin! Mr. Baldwin was one of our nation’s leading voices on the discrimination and racism experienced by black Americans. His books and essays transcend time, and continue to remain highly relevant. In fact, Mr. Baldwin wrote of numerous episodes as a child and teenager growing up in NYC of how he was harassed by NYPD. Has much changed since then? I urge all libraries to not only not weed out Mr. Baldwin’s books, but feature them as must-reads.

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