On today’s Princh Library Blog post we have guest writer Maxine Bleiweis, who is a former library director, library consultant, and speaker sharing her thought on putting money into libraries. Specifically, with the topic of police reform being discussed in the USA (where Maxine resides) she discusses “ If we want police reform, put money into libraries“.
If communities really want to transform their police departments, they should look no further than the building every city and town has — the public library.
And as communities ponder reallocating police department resources, public library administrators should be busy gathering evidence that supports funding for the special programs and services that help keep people from becoming police statistics.
Opportunity with libraries
For decades, the local library has created opportunities and offered sanctuary in a place that harbors no judgment about the person entering. It’s a place for a second chance after a faulty first start. It’s a place that provides professional assistance without showing an insurance card or passport.
Far more happens inside libraries than most people realize. The shortest of lists would include assistance with applying for unemployment, job training and literacy skills. The more comprehensive list would add a feeling of acceptance, a warm welcome, an encouraging word. Even a safe place.
In a dramatic but true example, in the 1990s, a 50-year-old insurance agent came into my library director office in Newington and handed me a check for $500. He had never given a donation before, nor had I ever seen him use the library. I thanked him and asked what prompted his generosity.
He said, “I’m alive. It’s all because of a librarian.” He went on to explain that he grew up in the south side of Chicago. In middle school, he was pressured to join a gang. He didn’t want to. To avoid the after-school pressure, he would dash to the closest branch library. The librarian knew what he was running from and gave him tasks to do each day after school out of sight in the back workroom. He told me that not one of his group of friends reached age 16.
When the Westport Library opened a big “makerspace” for hands-on learning in 2012, people of all ages who had never ventured into the library before came out of curiosity. Some came on their own. Others came from the court system to do community service. Everyone, no matter their age, received training in 3D printing and in using power tools. Many stayed to became mentors to others and gained pride in their knowledge, their new skills and empathy for others who struggled to do what they had learned.
Our newcomers had a hard time leaving at the end of their makerspace shift. Observant library staff who had gained their trust were able to introduce them to the rest of the library opportunities. Some became volunteers. Some were hired as staff. Some stayed well beyond their court-required hours.
Nick was one of those people. We never found out what he did to get assigned hundreds of hours of community service nor did it matter. He kept coming each evening far beyond his time. We dubbed him “Nick at Nite.” He liked that.
To my knowledge, none of those individuals had trouble in the future. Many were hired by the very people they helped train in 3D printing, software design and construction skills. The library was the safe space where they acquired a title, a role and respect for their unique abilities. Some wanted to start a business with their new skills and were assisted through library programs for entrepreneurs.
These stories aren’t unique to the northeast. Around the country (United States), public libraries have set up recording studios, game rooms and collaboration spaces just for teens. They have created centers for business incubation. They have mentoring programs.
Public Libraries are Important
Public libraries are critical in the lives of individuals. They offer safer spaces for people most at risk of involvement with the criminal justice system. They should work hand-in-hand with human services agencies, not-for-profit entities, educational institutions and, yes, the local police force. But only if the resources for trained staff, open hours, internet access and equipment are allocated.
Local governments should take heed that the public library in every community is poised and ready to receive funds that impact the lives of people who need it the most. Your vote, your raised hand and your donations are the missing piece.
You want people to be a public library statistic, not a police statistic.
For further information about the author or to further the conversation, find Maxine at firstname.lastname@example.org
We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!
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