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The Columbia Press

Columnists & Other Opinions

Off the Shelf: Libraries can never be neutral places

Kelly Knudsen, director, Warrenton Community Library
By Kelly Knudsen, Thursday, June 25, 2020

The horrific death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the movement it propelled across the United States and world, didn’t start with George Floyd or Trayvon, Eric, Sandra, Korryn, Botham, Breonna or the countless others who died too soon at the hands of police.

Racism and oppression have been camouflaged and festering for hundreds of years in communities and systems everywhere.

Maybe you haven’t been touched by racism personally, or never thought about it as a problem. Maybe you’ve been a passive bystander, perhaps without realizing it at the time: in the workplace, neighborhood, classroom, softball field, wherever, you let some racist comment go or maybe even laughed at it. (We are all guilty of this, me included).

Or maybe you have felt racism’s oppressive arms around you daily and feel this movement is what we’ve needed for years.

Wherever you fall in your thoughts about Black Lives Matter, know this, “Color has a place in the library, because all colors were not always allowed to get a library card. Color has a place in libraries because we are adamant about everyone being welcome. Color has a place in everything because color is everywhere.”

When I was studying to get my bachelor’s degree in English Education, I learned that stories can be vehicles for empathy and the fostering of social inclusion. Reading diverse authors helps readers examine the American perspective from a multicultural point of view. I also learned that most of our educational past has been from one perspective — white.

If you want to understand what people are going through or have gone through, or you want to think and see beyond yourself and your community, read literature that represents people who are not like you, fiction and nonfiction. When we identify with the characters in some way, it short-circuits our tendency to stereotype.

There are a ton of booklists floating around that focus on anti-racist writing or Black authors. Try some of these to expand your mind and understanding: Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Ibram Kendi, Symone D. Sanders, Ta-Nehshi Coates, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Angie Thomas, or Jason Reynolds.

"Libraries are not neutral. Libraries condemn racism and violence. Use the library resources to understand, listen and learn. Reading is power!" -- Michael Threets, a Black librarian from Fairfield, Calif.

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