By: guest blogger Allison Madsen
As a librarian in a public library, I am asked lots of questions. This is par for the course in this field, and helping to find answers to those questions is a part of the job I love. Sometimes the questions are easy to answer, like “Where is the bathroom?” Other times, they take more time and research. As librarians, I think we all have our favorite story of “odd” or “weird” questions we have been asked at the Information Desk. My favorite concerned the danger of goats at a petting zoo; however, that story is for another time.
Recently, while at the Information Desk, I had a gentleman ask if we had a prayer room. I think he could tell by my expression that we didn’t have a space specifically set apart for this purpose. He then added “Or somewhere I could pray?” This was the first time I had ever received this request.
This was in the early evening and the library was busy with customers. I knew immediately that both our meeting room and small conference room were in use. Those were the only two public meeting places in our library which would allow for a level of privacy. I could have just said, “No, I’m sorry we don’t have anything like that,” and I would have answered his question. However, I wanted to help him if at all possible, so I started brainstorming what places we had that might fit his needs within the constraints at the time.
It turns out we have a passage way from the children’s area to the meeting room that is closed off with doors on each end. We use this hallway as an entrance when we have storytimes. I realized this might just work; It was private, accessible, and was not in staff areas. It was an unconventional idea and use of space, but it worked and he was very grateful.
In the last year, our country has seen a rise in divisiveness and with that divisiveness has come a rise in concern about who we accept into our circles, neighborhoods and place of work. I purposely didn’t mention anything about his ethnicity, accent, apparel and religious affiliation. Would your reaction to the situation change if you knew any of those things? Libraries have always been champions of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Those values are even more important in today’s political and social climates.
I am proud to work for a library system that expects respect and inclusion for all. I am also proud to be part of libraries in America. Susan Stamburg once said,
“Public libraries [are] instruments of change — not luxuries, but rather necessities, important institutions — as vital to the community as police and fire stations and public schools.”
I hold this quote close to my heart and have made it part of who I am as a librarian and a citizen. Remember that we can make a difference in our communities one question at a time.
Allison Madsen is a youth services librarian at the South Jordan Library in Utah.