Our Public Library has been closed for one week. That decision was not made lightly. And the decision to remain closed until Monday, May 4, was also made with a heavy but hopeful heart. Libraries are places with open doors, where knowledge and information are readily accessible to all. We welcome and invite and are not accustomed to being closed or closed off.
We have chosen to remain closed even after the Governor’s Shelter in Place order expires because Libraries, by design, are unable to practice social distancing. We are a place for the public, the whole public, to come and be together. Keeping our Library open at this time has the potential to do more harm than good. By closing, we are doing our part to stop the spread of this fast-moving virus in our community. The next two weeks are critical. That is where the hope comes in. We can turn this heavy page in history, ready to go back out into the world and write a new story.
Another hopeful thing about this past week is that we have found new ways to show up in our community. It turns out that being closed does not mean being closed off. We’ve just found new doors to walk through. And we are not done finding them. We will continue to reach out in any way that we can to be a resource or support for those who need us. That is just what happens when 189 Library staff members start working from home.
Our Public Library has been closed for one week. This means that storytimes are now read at home by Youth Services Librarians, who are suddenly quite smug about their large personal collection of children’s literature. This means that you can talk to a Librarian on the phone, by email, through chat, or coming soon, through a virtual “in person” appointment. This means that you can check out twice as many digital items and sign up for a digital card (if you don’t already have a Library Card).
To turn a phrase borrowed from another organization that we love, you can’t cancel the Library. It turns out a Library is more than books (which we’ve been saying for awhile now) and is also more than walls or doors—open or closed. So what is it then? The Library represents intellectual freedom, lifelong learning, social responsibility, democracy, and hope for a better future. These are all ideals that we must cling to when times are difficult. The Library represents the belief that information can elevate us. The Library represents the ideas that with access to technology and resources, readily and equitably provided to all, we can become more resilient as a community.
Admittedly these days many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the crush of information, not elevated by it. We are not feeling free, intellectually or otherwise. And technology and internet without public access is unevenly distributed in households, which means that access to external social outlets and educational resources is also inequitable. We return with a reminder about hope. These days will pass, and the lessons that we have learned in this time can be used to make us stronger and inform our decisions for the future.
We need Libraries now more than ever. We need their collection of writings and stories. Words are one of our primary means of connection, whether we are in person or online. They have the power to uplift, and you don’t need to leave your couch to explore the world when you have a book. We can all gain valuable perspectives by walking in someone else’s shoes for 500 pages. Books can “be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out” (thanks, Tolkien).
We also need community now more than ever as we face unprecedented challenges. We are more resilient when we are together, and once again we have proven as a community that we are in this together. At a time when we are fractured into our smallest groups, we should remember that this separation is not really social but ultimately physical. There are connections all around us. Our community is drawing closer. The Civic Theatre is casting a #civiclight. La Casa is bringing necessary sanitization supplies to parts of our community that need them most. Sew Loved is mobilizing resources to create over 22,000 masks to protect medical workers on the front lines.
That seems very hopeful to us. And when we reopen, we will be ready to welcome you with warm smiles and open arms.