Libraries today are so much more than a place to find a new book. These public safe spaces are stepping up in their communities in a big way. From fighting homelessness to saving lives, libraries stand on the frontlines of public good.
In this episode, we’ll discuss how libraries are community anchors – providing assistance during natural disasters, offering refuge in the midst of chaos, and solidifying the library as the community’s core, no matter the circumstance.
In order of appearance: A still from The Public featuring Stuart Goodson (Emilio Estevez) and Big George (Che “Rhymefest” Smith) (source), Sign at Ferguson Municipal Public Library during the riots (source), Downtown Nashville days after the flooding (source).
Jim Heuer [00:00:17] Hi, everybody, it's Jim Heuer, I'm the microphone for our podcast series, Two Librarians and a Microphone. We're here for Episode Two of Season Five and of course I have the two librarians that actually make this podcast something that you want to listen to. How about we say hi to Tricia. Tricia.
Tricia Bengel [00:00:34] Hi, this is librarian one, Tricia.
Jim Heuer [00:00:37] And Donna.
Donna George [00:00:38] Hi, y'all, librarian two.
Jim Heuer [00:00:40] Excellent, thank you, alrighty. If you listened to our first episode in this season, you know that we are going to work on the theme that the Urban Library Council is using for their annual forum this year. That is Libraries Leading Forward. This particular episode, we're going to talk about how libraries serve in times of crisis. Lots of different angles we're going to examine that from. Tricia's got a really unique perspective of some stuff that actually happened to her when she was at Nashville Public, and we'll talk about a few other libraries of note. That's our backdrop. Hey Tricia, why don't you talk to us about your experience when Nashville had the big flood here. Boy, I don't even remember what year that was, but it was a while back, right?
Tricia Bengel [00:01:29] Those of you who know Nashville, know that in the year 2010, we had a catastrophic flood here in Nashville. One of those 500-year floods, and most of downtown and large pieces of the county were completely underwater. After the water started to recede, our local emergency management services wanted to get people access to fill out the FEMA paperwork as quickly as possible, so that those people who needed emergency housing, and things like that could get those services. They started brainstorming how to do that and they were going to borrow computers from FEMA and they were trying to find community centers that weren't flooded to set up computers. But they didn't have infrastructure for all of these kinds of things and so, they were scratching their head and scratching their head. Our library director and I just suggested, well instead of doing all that, why don't you just advertise that people go to our library branches, where we have reference librarians who can even help fill out those FEMA documents online. After they thought about it for about 30 seconds, they thought that was the best idea in the world. They helped us get power on to a few of our branches that were closed very quickly. They brought in some emergency generators, which emergency services are good at. We supplied our own computers, we supplied our reference librarians, and we went to town helping people get signed up. Emergency services and FEMA said that they were going to remember that, and suggest it in other
Tricia Bengel [00:03:13] communities who may experience similar things. We were definitely one of the first sets of government buildings in Nashville to get power restored every place, so that we could help out in that crisis.
Jim Heuer [00:03:28] Leading forward, there you go. One of the neat things about my job here is that I travel all across the country, and I get to go to different libraries and talk to you guys in the places where you do your work. I often get to find myself in really neat places talking to really neat people. I was with our sales rep in Missouri, we were in Ferguson, Missouri sitting across from the director, Scott Bonner, right. Some of you might have heard of Scott or read some of the things that he did. During the Ferguson uprising, the civil discourse, riots going on, that library stayed open. A lot of the folks in hindsight attribute that to Scott and his wherewithal to keep the library an oasis. He hung a sign out in the window that said the following, "During difficult times, the library is a quiet oasis where we can catch our breath, learn, and think about what to do next. Please help to keep our oasis peaceful and serene. Thank you." And you know what, it did. It worked. That library stayed open during everything that was going on, they had teachers coming in to teach classes, you know really leading forward in a difficult time. Last November, Tricia and I were in Philadelphia at the Library Journal Director's Summit. The Library of Congress director Dr. Carla Hayden gave an address and one of the things she talked about was their decision to keep their branch Enoch Pratt Library open, when she was the director there, during the riots in Baltimore following the Freddie Gray trial.
Jim Heuer [00:05:11] Once again, another oasis of calm and serenity and peacefulness in really a storm of chaos. These aren't easy things to do. It's much easier to go home and kind of shut this all away and wait until it goes away, but you know, that's not what librarians do. They're on the front line. Donna I know that you had some really interesting stuff. We were planning a webinar and one of our panelists had some things going on. Why don't you tell our listeners that story?
Donna George [00:05:42] Speaking of storms, and some water references here, we were…this was the fall of 2017, I think September-ish, we were planning a quarterly webinar that we do with Library Journal, about floating collections. Let that sink in for just a minute. We had some panelists signed-up and ready to go help us present with that. One of them was from Orange County, Florida. One of them was from Martin County, Florida. You might also remember that around the September 2017 mark, there was a hurricane named Irma that hit a lot of Florida. I just remember really being plugged into those folks at that time and really being concerned about their safety. We were able to get them on the cell phone and just check in with them and much like the stories that you've heard already, those folks at those libraries were having those buildings opened and available to their patrons, so that they could come in, use the electricity, use the plumbing, charge their cell phones, all of those kind of basic things that people were not able to do. We also heard a lot of activities like that from Broward County, Florida. A lot of those Florida libraries really stepped up in the time of need with Hurricane Irma.
Jim Heuer [00:06:54] At Broward, the director came from Queens, when he was working at Queens during Super Storm Sandy, the Queens Public Library lent out hotspots.
Tricia Bengel [00:07:07] Lent out hotspots!
Jim Heuer [00:07:09] Yeah, so that folks could access the internet. Right, I mean, you know that's some interesting thing there--
Tricia Bengel [00:07:13] Well, and just even a place to charge cell phones, you forget, you know when you're out of power and everybody's out of power, just--
Jim Heuer [00:07:21] You're out of power in your house, you walk in there and you flip…"I know the power's out, but I'm still going to…" I flip that light switch on because it's just you know, force of habit. Tricia, you know, this obviously has been going on in the real world, but it got the attention of Hollywood, or at least some folks in Hollywood, as well.
Tricia Bengel [00:07:40] When we were at ALA, there was quite a bit of buzz about it this year in Louisiana…but, Emilio Estevez, of all people, who's a director, a writer, and now actually plays a librarian in the movies, did a film called The Public. It's an American drama film, has a great cast: Emilio Estevez, Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, Taylor Schilling, among many others. The premise is that there is a huge mid-western brutal snowstorm and, making its way to Cincinnati, and all of the emergency shelters are at capacity. A large group of homeless people who are regulars at the Cincinnati Hamilton County Public Library Downtown branch say they're not going to leave. They're not going to leave the downtown public library area at closing time because of this storm. They really kind of start a nonviolent, occupy sit-in and it escalates into a stand-off with the local police. And Emilio Estevez who is playing one of the librarians, he and another librarian are really instrumental in diffusing this tough situation. Interesting concept for a movie that plays out in the real world all of the time, but that Emilio Estevez actually is able to capture on film. If you've not seen it, look it up on IMDB and find it where you can get movies and it's got a great cast, like I said.
Jim Heuer [00:09:23] There you go, filmed in I believe…filmed on-location in Cincinnati.
Tricia Bengel [00:09:26] I recognize those library pictures and that furniture.
Jim Heuer [00:09:30] Ha ha, right. And Tricia told us all about what you do with library furniture in last season--
Tricia Bengel [00:09:36] Yes, ha ha!
Donna George [00:09:37] And Jim, this actually makes me think about our Episode One of this season, when we were talking about kind of the breadth of services that libraries provide and the short-sightedness of the Forbes article, and I'm just looking at this article about Baltimore and I think the librarian there just really hit the nail on the head. She said "This is our life every day. We are public servants every day. At the end of the day, what happened on Monday during the unrest was service-oriented. We are giving the best service to our customers and our community that we can give. We do that every day."
Tricia Bengel [00:10:11] I think librarians have a calling. Not just…it's not just a job. I think that can really be summed up in all of these examples.
Jim Heuer [00:10:19] That's so funny, and Donna, I was thinking I was going to…and with a quote from that same article by Dr. Hayden, right? It's just she says quote, "It's just part of the tradition of public libraries in America. Being here in good times and bad. When the spotlight turned on the community in need, the library is there. I'm proud that we were able to carry that on." I can't imagine that there's any library director in America or any librarian that wouldn't feel the exact same way.
Donna George [00:10:44] Exactly.
Tricia Bengel [00:10:44] Yup.
Jim Heuer [00:10:46] Alright, that seems like it's a good place to end.
Donna George [00:10:48] Sounds good to me.
Jim Heuer [00:10:49] Alright, so we'll be back, Episode Three, we're going to talk about libraries and how they help promote democracy. Both little "D" and big "D", I guess, right? You know democracy of, you know, throughout the country is part of being an active participant in the government, but also kind of democracy and rule by the people and giving everybody, you know, equal access. Alright, that's next time. Thank you all for listening. My librarian pals, you want to say goodbye?
Tricia Bengel [00:11:18] Bye everybody!
Donna George [00:11:19] See ya next time.
Jim Heuer [00:11:20] Alright, talk to you guys later, bye-bye. Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services. It is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer/director is Rachel Cope. Sound engineering by Craig Simpson. Special assistance by Essence Brisco and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians Tricia Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram @thelibrarylife. Tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure that you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to our landing page 2libsandamic.com. But most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you could go in there, leave us a positive review, that would really help. Tell us what you'd like to hear that might help us as we're thinking about some of the content we're trying to bring you. It's the best way you can support what we're doing. We're trying to bring you interesting, fun, compelling, thought-provoking content. We might see some of you at ULC in Baltimore and if so, we look forward to that, and if not, we will see you in your libraries. Thanks everybody.
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