We have discussed whether it is ok to contract with [prisons] — is it possible that it means people who are incarcerated are learning actual useful skills that they can use to get decently paid work when they get out? Or are we kidding ourselves? Do you have any idea? I’m wondering how I might find out if it actually translates like that. I guess I could try and get in touch with someone at the Department of Corrections. What do you think?
The prison furniture thing is really a pickle. I see it as “of a kind” with discussions about library pay rates. Some libraries are just so small that they can’t pay reasonable wages and if it’s between that and being closed more hours, I think it’s important to make the decision that is best for the community. At the same time, the prison labor situation is… a problem and it’s worth trying to not contribute, but I am also cognizant of the fact that yes, building nice furniture is actually a job skill and a real one, as opposed to, say, making license plates.
So I often think, for myself since I am not in a decision-making capacity, how could I still serve my community but also make the world more just? So thinking about ways in which the library could try to balance the situation either by doing something like making a donation to people who are trying to address inequality or incarceration issues (I realize this is not necessarily simple for a library) or maybe finding a way to Zoom with some of the people who made the library’s furniture, either currently incarcerated people or people who have gotten released to let people know how the situation really works. Alternately, working with restorative justice organizations within communities to try to keep people out of prison, or getting a subscription to Prison Legal News for the library. Or working with the prison that makes the furniture to see what their prison library (if any) is like and how you could help. I know Johnny Flood at Vermont Humanities has been doing some of this work.
Obviously it’s a difficult choice, but I’m not sure it’s entirely practical for libraries to entirely eschew prison labor. But they can assure if they do engage with the prison industrial complex I think there are ways to do it mindfully and acknowledging that any time you engage with the capitalistic system–as we have to!–there are ways to mitigate damage, a little.
I’ve had my head down and have been staying home for the most part, no news here. A pleasant surprise is that there’s been work, talks to give, things to write about. Also: a lot of Wikipedia work. I did a presentation for the Vermont Humanities Council, an organization which I love but will also love to be cycling off of the Board of Directors of, about what Vermont libraries have been up to this past… year. I’ve excerpted it for an upcoming Computers in Libraries article, but as I was updating my talks page, I thought I should maybe mention it special here. If you’d like to read it or watch me giving it, you can go to this page here: Public Libraries in the time of COVID.
Like many people, I had bigger plans this year than I managed to realize. However, I did get to two new libraries which was decent for a year that saw only twenty-seven library visits total, with nineteen of them at the same library. The full list is short but memorable. I really hope to get back to the Goodrich Library in Newport again, it’s got a great collection and incredibly nice staff.
Previous years: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and some reviews from 2003.
- Kimball – my local, weekly drop-in time and occasionally pinch hitting for shifts
- Rochester – did some irregular drop-in time here
- Hartness – did not get to VTC as much as I’d like
- Pittsfield – had an empty drop-in time but it was cool to see this tiny library with an actual paid staff member now
- Goodrich/Newport – I did a First Wednesdays talk here and it was really enjoyable
- Montpelier – Don’t remember why I stopped by, but I always like visiting here
- VT Law – Hadn’t been here in a while and I stopped by before meeting a pal in SoRo
- Concord NH – Stopped in here while spending some time bumming around Concord with Jim
When John Lewis was sixteen, in 1956, he couldn’t get a library card because the public library in Troy, Alabama was for white people only under racist segregation laws. He died yesterday, just to put a point on what “in living memory” means for people of color in the US who were denied access to library services. And in some ways, library services in the US are still unequal, whether it’s because of underfunded libraries in poorer areas, the menacing specter of police and cameras in libraries making some patrons feel unwelcome, or flat out racist behavior by library staff, boards, and other patrons. It’s on us to do the work, getting into what John Lewis called “good trouble,” to undo the harm that this legacy of racism has done to our communities.
For people who would like a little outside-the-usual reading on this topic, I’d suggest learning about the Faith Cabin Library system, set up in South Carolina and Georgia so that Black children could have access to libraries that was otherwise denied to them. I wrote that article. Someone had to.
Visiting libraries is great. Neat things to learn about communities, comfy places to sit, clean bathrooms. I went to fewer libraries this year, but made more visits overall. Not chipping away at my VT 183 Project that quickly. This year I went to 27 libraries in six states. One hundred and eleven visits total.
Previous years: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and some reviews from 2003.
Libraries I went to a lot
- Kimball (VT) – my local
- Rochester (VT) – another almost-local where I did drop-in time
- Hartness/VTC (VT) – my local academic
- Westport (MA) – summer local, wasn’t there as much this year
- Tiverton (RI) – summer better local
- Windsor (VT) – did some library shifts here
- Howe/Hanover (NH) – always a fave wen I’m in Hanover
- Peacham (VT) – cool taxidermy and nice people
- Dorchester County PL (MD) – functional and a lovely building
- Grafton (VT) – big book sale upstairs, lots of comfy chairs
- Howe/UVM (VT) – renamed and still great, better possibly
- Carney/Dartmouth (MA)- summer fave
- Wicomico PL (MD) – simple and sturdy, a lot of great exhibits
- Norwich U (VT) – aggravating meeting, lovely library
- Shelburne (VT) – checking on the new reno, it’s great!
- Lamont/Harvard (MA) – rainy day, cozy library
- Montpelier (VT) – good place to met people
- Dartmouth/Baker-Berry (NH) – good place to hide from the rain, hoppin
- Dartmouth/Rauner (NH) – great art and wifi
- Houghton/Harvard (MA) – space exhibit and good friends
- Fall River (MA) – always impressed with what they can do in this space
- Norwich (VT)
- Hancock (VT) – so tiny, so cute
- UVM Spec Coll (VT) – great tour of the new place
- Seminole Heights (FL) – good place to chill out after a long walk
- Saunders PL (FL) – gave a talk here
- Widener/Harvard (MA) – hiding in the stacks here is one of my happy places