after National Librarian Day

It’s Easter, if you celebrate it on the western calendar, and also the midst of Ramadan, and right around Passover too. It is also, apparently, the day after National Librarian Day, and I have about as many feelings about that as I always have around National Library Week.

Events like National Library Week and National Library Workers’ Day and National Librarian Day are meant, at heart, to celebrate and honor those of us who make your library a library. They are also a tremendous irony: instead of celebrating us, they tend to give us more work, as most libraries (particularly publics, but they’re not alone) work extra-hard on programming and displays to celebrate. I did nothing in my library, this year, because I’m fucking exhausted and I barely make it through the day, let alone the week. But I have a hell of a lot of feelings now.

I believe—deeply, fundamentally, ethically—that libraries are essential. The work we do, or at least do in theory, is a societal good. We have much to offer, on a societal level, a structural level, and a personal level. But I also believe that, right now, we are breaking, and we cannot hold on in this way much longer. We are, of course, under attack from without: conservatives and local fascists (often the same people, but anyway) are coming for the materials in our collections, the books on display, the policies in place, even our staff. Library staff are underpaid and overworked and, in many cases, frequently deal with harassment and violence as part of their day-to-day work. Positions go unfilled and budgets are slashed, while we are asked to do more and to carry the weight of every shuttered social service agency in our towns or counties or states or countries. (I can’t administer narcan, but did you know that many librarians can?)

Normally I would offer you a solid rundown of citations here, but I’m tired as fuck, guys, and I don’t really have the energy right now. I will say that Book Riot, fearlessly spearheaded by Kelly Jensen (here on Twitter), has done a fantastic job of presenting information on some of the attacks against libraries and of maintaining archives of current activities in American censorship. (If you’re interested in censorship-related research, my former professor, Dr. Emily Knox, if the best person to look to for information.)

What I will say is this: if you, like me, believe that libraries are a public good which should be funded and which should survive the 2020s, please get active. Run for your local library board, if you are able. Advocate that your alma mater, or your child’s college, properly fund their academic library. Advocate that empty positions be filled. Suggest that longer hours might not be the most important, if the library is struggling to maintain sufficient staff to do anything beyond keep the doors open. If your local library unionizes, do everything you can to support those unionizing staff. (I was, for a time, on my public library’s bargaining committee—where my job was, essentially, to piss the hell out of opposing council. It worked, but was also hell on my blood pressure.)

I’m not going to go into my own situation right now, at least not much. But I will say that filling open positions is essential, and that if someone wants to “right size” a library, you need to question it—hard. What does right size mean? What will it do to staff morale—and to the ability to get things done while working an eight-hour day? (I’ve worked so many ten and twelve and fifteen hour days, guys, and it’s really unhealthy.) I’ve taken a hell of a hit, in terms of both physical and emotional health, and I know it will take me some time to build back. Your library desperately needs materials, but it also needs staff, because we make the library run.

This Easter, I’ll try to take a step back, to give myself some time away from the shackles of work. I don’t know if it will really happen, though, since the physical manifestations of my stress levels are going to be here no matter what. I believe in libraries, guys. I believe that we need to move away from our white supremacist lenses, and decolonize our collections, and listen to our patrons rather than imposing upon them our own ideas of what they need—for they are, first and foremost, experts in their own lives. But I also believe that, unless we make some huge changes, none of those things will be possible.

Libraries are worth fighting for, and right now, we need all the allies and alliances we can get.

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