by Casira Copes
Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash
Growing up, my local library was a safe space before I even understood what that term meant.
My living arrangement was complicated in middle and high school. I didn’t take the bus. My parents weren’t able to pick me up right when school let out. I needed somewhere to go in the meantime that was safe for an unaccompanied teenage girl.
Luckily for me, there was a public library right down the road. At least 3 to 4 days out of the 5-day school week I went to the library for about an hour or two. The librarians knew me well. They looked out for me, let me and a few other students have first pick of the new YA books whenever they arrived, and were graciously forgiving of the countless fines I racked up over the years from checking out way too many books too often.
The building itself felt a little bit like home as well. I had a favorite spot I liked to sit in, and I was a regular at the weekly teen book club meetings where I would sit around a large table among my friends, eating snacks the way some might eat dinner with their families. On my 16th birthday I was surprised with a cake and the nerdiest little bookworm party imaginable in the back meeting room.
All of this to say, I loved my local library. A lot. Looking back, it’s clear to see how so many of those fond memories, mundane as they may seem, were made possible because of the unique role libraries have in meeting the needs of a community in a way that (theoretically) operates outside of a capitalist framework.
A radical inclusivity
Unlike so much of what we consider “public space” in the U.S., public libraries offer environments for people to just exist safely and peacefully, protected from the elements, without the pressure to purchase or perform some sort of service. They (again, in theory) welcome all ages, races, genders, sexualities, socioeconomic statuses, abilities, etc.
Anyone who thinks libraries are just for books has not spent a lot of time inside of one. Across the country, libraries provide technological access, employment services, enrichment and educational programs for children and teens, art, resources for immigrants and English-language learners, and much more. Every library plays a different role within its community based on the demographics and needs of said community.