3/8/15: Libraries as Public Space

Slice of LifeThe Boston Public Library recently opened its newly-renovated children’s room. My first student teacher (from over a decade ago–my how the time passes…) and I have become great friends over the years. Now, as both parents of young children, she has become one of my dearest sources of support and sanity. We see each other weekly, when we usually share a meal and do some sort of physical activity. Today, we took the babies to a sushi brunch and then over to the library to check out the new space.

The renovation is incredible! The architect of the room understood early childhood development and the importance of literacy. The room has several dedicated spaces for hands-on play, for adult-child reading, for creative play, for technology…it is a dream. An absolute dream. The children of the city are quite lucky.

As E played and we chatted, I noticed that, save for us, there were no people of color in the children’s room–primarily, I’m talking about children and parents of African descent and Latino/a children and parents. We asked the librarian if what we noticed was just an “off day,” but she said that on the weekends, the users of the library tended to be White, while throughout the week the numbers of families of color ticked upward a bit more. Slightly.

Hmmm…Boston is a majority/minority city, meaning that most of the residents of the city are people of color. Yet, none were in this beautiful library. I’m not into deficit narratives, so I am not going to insert one here. I do wonder, however, what the library is doing to make everyone aware of the renovation (it’s only been open for a few weeks), if they’re reaching out to communities of color and local community branches, if they’re talking to a diverse group of mothers from around the city to think about programming. Then, just like that, the librarian wrote our contact information down to chat about these ideas and to follow up on our conversation.

I’m conflicted. I think that it’s not my job to notice absences and then be pegged to help change those absences. However, if I don’t use my literacy experience and expertise–particularly what I know about diverse books and young people–then who knows if there’s going to ever be any significant, substantial change about how to make these spaces appealing for everyone all the time?

What I do know is that, while the space was beautiful and quite breathtaking, I felt a bit uncomfortable being the only mom of color. Yet again. I do think that moving between spaces where we are the only POCs comes at a cost, even if it’s sitting around chatting awkwardly with other parents while E plays happily. I don’t know if my unease can outweigh the benefit of taking him back.

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5 thoughts on “3/8/15: Libraries as Public Space

  1. It is hard to do things that make us feel uneasy. I can understand why you feel conflicted but I hope it doesn’t keep you and your little one away from a new beautiful space!

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  2. I’m sorry for your experience. I know there are many cultural organizations in my city (Chicago) that would love to have more POCs participating, but they haven’t completely figured this out yet. It sounds like you can be a valuable resource for spreading the word, but you’re right, you shouldn’t have to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

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