Melanie Townsend Diggs, Branch Manager, Pennsylvania Ave Branch, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD
April 22, 2015: Freddie Gray’s funeral, after this, everything went haywire. She started by showing a video of violence that night in Baltimore. It showed stores being lit on fire and kids being evacuated. PA Branch Library was open and safe. She said there were all types of people that day committing violence, reacting to what happened, in the best way they knew how. In the midst of it all, the library was open and still operating. “I understood my purpose was to ensure everyone was safe,” she said, “including my staff, who was looking for me for direction.”
She was asked by their CEO if she had a plan. They do have a security officer in their building. She asked him to take off his shirt so he wouldn’t be targeted. If the violence approached, they were going to lock the door. At 2 pm that afternoon, they did lock the door. She went around to every patron and told them they were locking the door but offered the option for them to leave.
The next day there was a curfew set and the schools were closed, and the businesses were closed, the library was open. Customers came in just to say “thank you.” A gentleman came in to apply for jobs. Two days after that, the man came back with a big grin. “The day I came,” he said, ”I applied for several jobs, and had two calls for interviews at the end of the week.”
Diggs said they were open for him, if nothing else.
Every day when you go to work at your library, you never know who you are making a difference for. They started providing canned goods and did a food drive. Whole Foods gave them a day to give them 5% of their sales.
At the ALA Conference last year, Tech Logic gave them the People First Award.
In all, they received almost $80,000 in donations for being open and safe during this event.
She said a lot is launching them forward. If it had not been for the uprisings and protests, they wouldn’t have certain programs. One of the them is called “Lawyer in the Library.” Lawyers wanted to help people with any type of legal issue that they could. They also wanted to help with expungement (criminal things removed from records), but it’s often expensive. They held Expungement Workshops that worked with customers and helped break down these barriers. One time they had around 600 people show up. This is a great example of how “library as place” can make a difference.
They also do a “Books and Bread” program with Shop Rite Stores where people can order groceries online and pick them up at the library free of charge.
She ended by saying how much of a difference we make in the lives of people. We need to change our mindsets of being that place of warmth, of security, of electricity and the place people need. We are serving people that need us.
We've moved to the NFLS Blog.