In These Uncertain Times, Libraries Are Still Here

by Rebecca Harrison

What is a public library with no public? When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the physical doors of our 24 library locations, the leaders and employees at Tulsa City-County Library quickly posed this question. And, almost as quickly, they began formulating answers. As the adage goes, a library is more than a building. It’s something bigger, fiercer, more idealistic. With our customers forced to stay home for the foreseeable future, we adapted nimbly, reminding those in our community about our myriad online resources. Folks could check out one of our thousands of eBooks to help manage the endless tedium of quarantine. They could visit our Facebook page for virtual yoga classes, book talks, and even gardening advice. If you were feeling pressure to use all this newfound free time to pick up a new hobby, the library could point you to digital books on knitting, drawing, or playing guitar. We leveraged our social media reach to connect with our customers, to let them know that even when the world seems to be falling apart, we’re still there.

Then, right on the heels of a historic pandemic, the world shifted again. The 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred in the midst of a global awakening. Again, the public library recognized its duty to provide access to information and to guide our customers to resources to help them navigate important topics like the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-racism, and white privilege. Our staff set to work developing nonfiction and fiction book lists on these topics. Our CEO, Kimberly Johnson, issued a statement voicing TCCL’s support for the “collective action to end systemic racism.”

But it’s not just our library. Libraries all across the nation are stepping up; if you’re not local to Tulsa and haven’t looked to see what your library has been up to, you might be surprised to find out they’ve been quietly making a difference in your community. Let this be a nudge for you to check out what your library has to offer—as we face these times of uncertainty and disruption, I am proud to be part of an institution that strives both to serve and to lead.

Rebecca Harrison is the manager of Adult Services at the Central Library in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When she’s not at the library, you may find her writing, reading, or marveling over how cute her cats are.

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