Guest Blogger

Saturday kickoff at #ALSC20

We jumped into the morning with a panel discussing “on the ground” experiences from librarians working in communities experiencing trauma.

Beth Patin from Syracuse University was a school librarian when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. It was an overwhelming experience for the community; everything in that area was utterly destroyed. Patin was able to start rebuilding her library collection (even with a little computer lab!) inside of a trailer long before the school was rebuilt. The community immediately utilized those services.

Anita Montoya from Hennepin County Library works in the area where George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis this year. Their community was rocked with protests, and she said they worked hard to be there for the people. Some buildings were damaged, but she said that the community also tried hard to protect the library, too, because they knew the library was there for them. The library also provided constant outreach, meeting the community where they are. The library wanted to be present, be listeners, and give information where community resources could be found. They were a “source of consistency in the midst of upheaval.”

Photo of library building with damaged windows, and photo of  cardboard sign with the words, "Respect this community-owned library"

Beth Patin said, “flexibility is key in managing traumatic situations,” and that “establishing yourself as a trusted place beforehand” helps the community know that you are there for them when traumatic events happen. She also said that she would “take these little steps to protect my heart where I can,” such as driving to work different ways to avoid seeing damage to her town, because librarians are often “some of the first responders in the community,” and staff aren’t given time to process their own feelings and stress in the midst of trauma. The emotional pressure is draining; librarians think first, “how can I help?”

The panelists all struggled to answer questions about finding balance between their own experiences and being there for the community; Montoya said, “the emotional labor that is involved is certainly… large. ” Patin said, “I can sleep at night because I know I am doing something” for the community. Setting boundaries, doing something fun and distracting for yourself, getting relief, and finding time to recharge is difficult, but it’s important to try.

Oralia Garza de Cortes, a Latino Children’s Literature Consultant and member of REFORMA serving Spanish speaking families, worked hard to buy books and provide storytime programs for children crossing the border in Texas and California. She said that bilingual books were great to share, because Spanish was their language, but most of them were also trying to learn English, too. Garza de Cortes added, “it brought joy to children, some who had never seen a book before.”

Bringing joy to children and communities in the times of crisis is immeasurably important; being able to escape, just for a little while, helps.

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