A lot of people have lost their jobs or worse in the current pandemic. I’m fortunate: my family is healthy (so far) and provided for (so far).
Back in the spring, the library system where I’m a part-time storyteller informed us that all our summer reading programming was going to be virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite only being required to produce a couple video programs over the summer, my department jumped in and started producing 3+ a week. Because that’s what librarians and library workers do – they usually do more than the job requires.
Before I started sharing these videos to my personal page, many of my friends probably assumed my job was reading books to kids. I do that sometimes, but storytime is (in person) an hour-long program of stories told, as well as songs, a few read-alouds, and fun and educational games. I’m a newbie storyteller. The people I work with have been doing it for 15-20 years. They are masterful. The kids love them. Young adults come to the library to tell them how much they loved their storytimes when they were littles. Their lasting impact is visible in the children and youth they’ve patiently helped, week after week, year after year. The library is a safe place and a good place, and they make it that way.
All of this could stop as early as next week. Our city is experiencing a severe budget shortfall and almost all library employees are slated to be furloughed indefinitely.
I know what you’re thinking – what do people even DO at the library? Why do we have libraries? What good are they?
- Libraries are centers for literacy. Literacy makes or breaks a society/community/nation.
- Libraries and librarians provide support to teachers and schools and homeschooling families.
- Libraries provide resources, all FOR FREE. Like these:
- Community engagement/community hub
- Research helpers
- Knowledge of/access to helpful community resources (for the homeless; for job seekers; for parents; for seniors; etc)
- Educational programs
- After school programs
- Help finding books you like, or books your child would like, or books/resources for your child who is learning to read
- Foreign language books
- Braille books
- Books you don’t have to pay for
- BOOKS YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY FOR
- Libraries don’t censor. The good, the bad, they are the keepers and defenders of the Stuff Humanity Writes.
- Libraries are safe places for kids to hang out and discover things they enjoy. Better than a parking lot, right?
- Librarians often help kids with their homework when they have no-one else to help them
- Librarians are friendly, helpful, and work very hard for their patrons. Patrons walk up to the circulation desk or the staff desks and get greeted by name. Librarians and library workers know the community, and serve it in official and unofficial ways.
If you think that people don’t use libraries anymore, consider this one fact: as soon as we re-opened for curbside service in June 2020, our regional branch began circulating THOUSANDS of books every week. This is just one example. I have more, and you are welcome to ask me.
Something has to give during a pandemic. It should be libraries, right? Libraries are a luxury commodity, aren’t they?
People use libraries to look for and apply for jobs, print resumes, leases, legal documents, get tax forms, etc. Parents come to libraries asking for books of a certain reading level, or subject matter. Students come to libraries to do their school projects. Teachers come to libraries to supplement their student resources. People experiencing homelessness or unsafe home environments come to the library to ask where they can get help.
But those things are just luxuries. Jobs, education…people don’t need those…
A city in an economic downturn NEEDS its libraries. A city with a struggling education system NEEDS its libraries. A city with a new influx of homeschooling families NEEDS libraries.
That’s my ideological defense of libraries. I’d like to talk about my personal experience now.
I grew up going to the library, checking out 20+ books a week and reading most of them. A few years ago, I was looking for a part-time job that wouldn’t conflict with my afternoon music teaching. I applied for a very generic library assistant job posting and ended up as a preschool storyteller at the Avondale Regional Library. At first I didn’t think it was going to be a good fit, because I’ve never worked with kids that young – but boy, was I wrong. I’m so glad to have been wrong. In addition to experiencing some personal growth and creative rehabilitation (maybe I’ll go into that another time), I have had the opportunity to work shoulder-to-shoulder with some incredible people. Work in the library is not as glamorous as I thought it would be (I have a strange idea of what constitutes glamorous, I know); it’s harder, and more complicated, and more frustrating. But we have a joke:
“We don’t do this job for the money.”
Of course, we do work for the money, because that’s what work is. But it’s not very lucrative. It’s a labor of love: loving the ideal, loving the community, loving the young reader who comes in asking for books about “the abdominal snowman.”
If I lose this job, I will be OK. But I will also be very sad. I’m not sure the library can come back in the same way after the pandemic if we have to shut down. My long-term plans may not include a library career, but I do try to surrender each step to the little piece of the path God illuminates in front of me. This was a piece of the path I did not expect, and I’m very grateful to it. I hope I can continue to do it for just a little bit longer.