The King County Library System (KCLS) is slowly moving towards a phased-in plan to reopen our library buildings after an unprecedented three-month shutdown to help curtail a global pandemic. While we have continued to serve residents online during this time, we are eager to return to some semblance of normalcy, and greet our patrons in person once again. However, as we reflect upon the homicide of George Floyd and the protests that have ensued, it’s clear that a return to “normal” will not ensure that all people in our country are treated fairly.
We are committed to ending structural racism. KCLS has joined more than 160 North American public library systems in signing the Urban Libraries Council’s Statement on Race and Social Equity which asserts that “libraries can help achieve true and sustained equity through an intentional, systemic and transformative library-community partnership.”
As we witness these and similar events, we are reminded that public libraries do not exist apart from society. We are not immune to coronavirus, racism, poverty, prejudice, wealth inequality or any of the other challenges we face. We feel the effects of all these afflictions every time we open our physical or virtual doors.
At the same time, however, we must remember that, more than any other institution, the public library represents that which is best in America. We create opportunities for meaningful connections between people under an umbrella of inclusion. We provide services and programs to everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, political persuasion or income level.
And yet, we still have work to do. We will listen to our residents, examine our own biases, and continue to educate ourselves about racial injustice. And we will offer our support and resources to help everyone in our communities do the same.
While it may sometimes feel like the library is the last true “commons” in our democracy, we cherish and embrace that role. We cannot get together just yet, but we can take comfort in knowing that the work we do every day makes a difference. We will continue to serve as the source of knowledge and the place of understanding for all people of King County.