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How Libraries Are Supporting The Black Lives Matter Movement


Librarians across social media are joining the call to address racism, and many are demanding an end to police violence against African Americans in libraries. Our next guest says that most librarians do everything they can not to call the police. Stacy Collins is a university librarian in Boston. Thanks so much for being with us.

STACY COLLINS: Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the issue of policing. Recognizing that every library must have different circumstances, I'm sure, should police be in libraries?

COLLINS: That's a complex question, but it's also one that's important to answer. So my opinion is that we do not require police in libraries, that the role and function that they perform right now is not - and this is not to take away from the fact that there are security issues, there are safety issues, there are services that library staff are not trained or equipped to provide, but police do not need to fill those functions as well, especially when they represent both further harm and further lack of safety to folks who may already be in crisis.

SIMON: Explain to us how that works, what you've seen.

COLLINS: Sure. So this is actually kind of similar to when police presence is in a school, where ostensibly, they're there to make the area safer because there might have been other threats, there might have been issues in the past. But what happens is the issue of behavioral problems or something that goes against a code of conduct or rules in a library, for example, instead of suddenly the response being a warning or perhaps a suspension of services or access to the library for an amount of time, it's now faced with police action, which is a huge escalation.

SIMON: But you do believe there are legitimate security issues in libraries.

COLLINS: I believe there are safety issues everywhere, in part because marginalized folks exist everywhere. They are not just our patrons who make use of the library. We also have marginalized folks that make up our staff and even our readership. So the same things that exist outside the library walls, in terms of safety issues, exist within. But the same way that an overextension of police have exacerbated the problems outside the library, they do the same within it.

SIMON: What else can librarians be doing now? And I say this with librarians in my family, and they - I recognize they do a lot that people don't know about already.

COLLINS: We do a lot, and we tend to do it understaffed and underfunded. Libraries having greater resources and greater training and their fellow social services resources and departments also having literally more money and more people means that we have more avenues to go with before calling the police. And so when we call for things like Black Lives Matter, defund the police, we are also talking about a divestment that should lead to a reinvestment in those community organizations and departments so that we have choices other than the police and, ideally, we never have to call them.

SIMON: The American Library Association issued a statement condemning violence against black people by police, along with violence against protesters and journalists. I gather you'd like them to do something more, though, too.

COLLINS: I think statements are an important step. They don't always have to be the first, but for many libraries they are. We have a lot of folks that are very, very nervous. Where libraries are, by their nature, risk-averse when at all possible to make sure that we stay open and valuable for our communities, and so we don't like to risk something that would inflate controversy, but this is not one of those moments. Saying Black Lives Matter is not a bad thing. Demonstrating it is all the better. So, yes, I'd like to see more, and I'm hopeful that there are next steps coming in those directions.

SIMON: Stacy Collins is a university librarian in Boston. Thank you so much for being with us.

COLLINS: Again, thank you so much. I appreciate you all taking the interest and having me on.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.