Contemplating safe places and the library
For years now, I have been contemplating the situation of our library, all while attending story time with my children and enjoying the resources it has to offer my family. I am thankful to be acquainted with many people here in the county, and I have been listening and watching. Thoughts formed as I read reports, letters and asked direct questions. As is often the case for me, the words came in the wee hours of the morning — a conveniently quiet time for a mama of young ones in a small home — so I started to write.
What brought it all together for me was a memory from my university experience in Seattle. I saw the culture shift, becoming more polarized and hostile, after the city benches were removed from much of downtown. It was the early 2000s. With nowhere to sit, the public rushed by at a concerning pace. The weary homeless had nowhere to rest, and the general public literally lost the inspiration to sit a moment and watch the world go by. Instead, that misguided decision eliminated community presence and consciousness, and inspired more shameful behavior and vandalism. Confusion, yells, and even gunshot (very different from our unique North Idaho “Sound of Freedom”) joined the roar of traffic and congestion. Engagement in the public square became hostile.
The lesson I take from that experience is this: public space becomes less safe when people disengage. That is what is happening at our library. There are those who say we have the best library ever — despite the many revelations that have exposed a picture much to the contrary (and I am not even talking about books). There are also those who are righteously concerned for their children’s innocence because of the alarming agenda of libraries both near and far (which does involve books), so they just stock their personal shelves and stay at home. Please stop. We need to engage.
The presence and watchfulness of moral people who are willing to stick out their necks to try to make our public spaces safer should be commended:
Those who have initiated and signed for both the first and the second library board recall are doing this. Citizens have the right to elect county leaders. Tenure is good because boards grow stagnant. Workplaces have rules, and boards should hold staff accountable so issues both large (like payroll, fire codes, sick leave policies and keys) and small (like computer updates and passive aggressive pinching!?) are corrected early.
Those reading on the lawn are also doing this. Literature must be valued, and the public square enjoyed. Community presence makes inappropriate behaviors like stalking and lewd behavior less likely. We need each other!
The most harmful result of this lack of engagement is the growing hostility that polarizes people, which has definitely been fueled by the rhetoric of the press. It’s intimidating to stick around when the tension rises this high. But engage we must.
So let’s all raise our necks in this battle. We need to work to maintain the safe, public library we imagine for this community by not leaving it. Browse the books. Play chess. Talk to people, albeit quietly! Go to board meetings. Whatever you do, don’t disengage from the public space. Make it healthy again. It’s YOUR library. We could turn this around yet.