Holding Space: Virtual Tour Bus by ALA President

By John Walsh

On August 5th, ALA President Julius Johnson brought his Holding Space virtual bus tour to Arizona. Initially, the tour was going to be a bus tour across America from the steps of the Library of Congress, where the tour started, to the Hawaii State Library where the tour ended on August 7.

During the Arizona stop, Julius visited the Cordes Lakes Public Library in Prescott Valley. An impressive group of panelists included Holly Henely, the state librarian, and a host of public, academic, and tribal librarians and directors from around the state. The panel also included Jessica Rainbow, the AzLA lobbyist, Yavapai County Supervisor Thomas Thurman, and State Senator Lisa Otondo. The discussions were informal and inspiring and topics focused on how Arizona libraries are serving specific populations, keeping residents connected, cultivating community relationships and the expansion of the Cordes Lakes Public Library building. Julius commented “Cordes Lakes (Ariz.) Public Library is improving lives every day, providing internet access to underserved communities, helping people find jobs and build careers, empowering students as they develop literacy skills that will lead to lifelong learning, Many of these successes take place in the shadows. Their stories need to be told, their professional organization and local community need to listen, and their elected leaders need to support them.”  

One of the common themes was the ever apparent digital inequity in our state and the importance of increasing broadband access in our rural communities, especially, the tribal nations. This was best reflected in a statement by Nicole Umayam, Digital Inclusion Library Consultant at the Arizona State Library. Umayam explained “I’m not the first person to note that access is a technical matter, but accessibility is a matter of equity and justice. We know infrastructure might be available so that access is there.  A library might have WiFi.  Access is, there but as the panelists have mentioned, getting to the library is a challenge, and at the statewide level, we also know that the bandwidth and the digital capacity of the libraries signal itself isn’t always equitable.”

Another common theme involved libraries as space. Almost every panelist believed it was the patrons, who drove the role the library played in the community. Amber Mathewson, Director of Pima County Public Library, claimed “We were lucky enough a couple of years ago with LSTA funding to hire a consultant… to find out what the community really wanted.  And it has helped us to really design our services. So I think it’s being willing to ask the questions and ask the community what they want.” Corey Christensen agreed that users drive the library as space. He stated, “Cordes Lakes public library has seen a 60% increase in  the number of visits to this library….and what we found out is that on several occasions…it was exceeding the capacity of the building.  So we actually had to expand the size of the library in order to accommodate all the residents because it’s not just about books or movies. It’s about a place.” Even I had to agree that it was our “two different (student) populations that have really created and implemented the current role of both libraries as place….both libraries really, naturally designed themselves by the people that they were serving, their needs, their demands are what drove the design and everything that happens in the library.”

I was lucky enough to “ride the bus” for the whole tour and every stop was inspirational. Librarians from all types of libraries, and political advocates from every local area where the tour stopped, told their stories. One of the more memorable moments of the whole tour included Andrea Blackman’s, Director of Civil Rights at the Nashville Public Library,  virtual tour of the Votes for Women Room. She claimed the space was “sacred and hallowed ground.” The room will be having a grand opening on August 18th and anyone can join Andrea virtually and “Ring the Bell” with her as they celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The story holds that on that day in 1920 cities throughout the country rang bells to celebrate women receiving the right to vote, but Nashville remained silent due to political pressure. Well Andrea will be breaking that silence this August. So join her and help Ring the Bell.

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