"More than machinery, we need humanity."

Librarians Hit the Streets (and parks)

Sometimes the best way to make people recognize the value of libraries is to put a library somewhere they had not expected: in a park, on the sidewalk, in front of a library that has been shuttered (okay, that one might be expected). It is not entirely wrong for libraries to be thought of in relationship to the buildings they occupy, but libraries can and must be more than just rows of shelves in an aging building.

Urban Librarians Unite (ULU) is a library advocacy (and activism) group that has been consistently fighting the good fight for libraries and librarians (which is highly needed) while putting together some really excellent projects and actions. While ULU has done important things like organize events in support of various libraries, what I have found most interesting is the projects they have undertaken to use libraries as the way to advocate for libraries. I shall explain.

After Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on NYC, ULU opened its own group of libraries. They were small, very small in fact. What they were was bright orange stationary boxes (of the type you might grab a newspaper from) that were filled with books (about a hundred at a time) that people could “borrow” until such a time as their regular library re-opened. Discussing these little libraries on its website, ULU wrote:

“They could never be mistaken as an alternative to the branch libraries they substitute and intended to support. They do offer some comfort and succor, especially to kids and families, and they remind people that libraries–and their librarians–are nimble, caring and quick to respond to the needs of their communities.”

And now, with Spring upon us, ULU is preparing another library action project in the form of The Volunteer Library Brigade which will dispatch teams of librarians (who do not have to be “official librarians”) around New York City pushing mobile library carts to public places. The project will put librarians—and some library materials—right where the patrons are.

To find out more about both projects, and to get involved (The Volunteer Library Brigade needs brigadiers) visit the ULU website.

Small orange library boxes and mobile library carts have their limitations (certainly) but so do huge library systems with their bureaucracies and budgetary woes. And yet, it has been my experience, that if you want to engage people in library advocacy it is sometimes best to look beyond the traditional library’s walls.

Besides, street librarianship is fun.

Hopefully the city of NY will look more kindly upon the Volunteer Library Brigade than it did upon another library that had been set up in a public space…

About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

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