Letter from the Director: Coming Together to Create a Better Community for All

On behalf of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County I’d like to express our deep sadness and concern for the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the many other Black lives in America. The Library condemns all acts of violence and any disregard for human rights.  

We know there is a call for change in our community, and we are ready to respond to that call. Included in this call is discussion of renewing and refreshing Cincinnati’s model Collaborative Agreement put in place nearly 20 years ago and focused on community-oriented policy. This document, while borne out of tragedy, represents our ability to unify and create positive change. Now is the time to advance that collective work and build a community where all our community members feel safe, respected, included, and seen. 

Twenty-first-century libraries like ours strive to be—and must be—pillars of equity, inclusion, diversity, and democracy for the communities we serve. We provide equitable access to information and digital resources for all people, regardless of race. We offer respectful and welcoming spaces for civic discourse and the expression of diverse voices. As highly trusted institutions and essential foundations of civic infrastructure, public libraries like ours have a unique and vital role to play in advancing equity. Doing so during a pandemic may complicate the ability to dialogue in-person, but we are committed to finding ways to work with the community to bridge divides and give voice to those who are angry, voiceless and unheard. 

Our Library is one of the more than 160 North American public library systems that have signed on to the Urban Library Council’s Statement on Race and Social Equity, opens a new window, which asserts that “libraries can help achieve true and sustained equity through an intentional, systemic and transformative library-community partnership.”  

As part of the development of our Facility Master Plan,, opens a new window we have worked to hear from marginalized communities as we start progress on improvements to all our branches including those in diverse urban communities – communities of color that have waited for much-needed improvements to which we are deeply committed to seeing through. These processes have been focused on collaboration and community dialogue to ensure we hear—really hear—what our communities want and need from their libraries. 

In the days, weeks and months ahead we will continue to work with community partners to hold community conversations, especially those in marginalized communities. Together we can build a more equitable future for our community. There is much work to do, much healing to initiate, but also hope for a better future.  Doing this work won’t be easy but it is essential, and we must begin by opening our hearts and our minds to those who have been excluded. I invite you to join me in this critical endeavor. 

This week, we opened five more locations for curbside pickup and on the week of June 15, we’ll open the downtown Main Library’s first floor for computer access. We hope our strong neighborhood presence, critical services, caring staff and institutional reputation will contribute to starting the healing process in our communities.

Also, in the short term, our talented and caring library staff are starting a new storytime series for parents to help them talk with kids about difficult issues. The focus of the first stories they record will be about illness in response to the coronavirus pandemic and race to help families talk about the George Floyd tragedy. We are also gathering resources to help community members of color cope with the trauma of recent and past events. 

As we continue to expand library services and adjust to a new reality given the pandemic, it is worth reminding ourselves that everyone is welcome at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. It is at the heart of who we are as an organization and aligns with one of the pillars of our Library’s vision, opens a new window to assure equitable access for all to the Library’s resources and services. We will keep this ideal in the forefront as we connect with community partners to create a more equitable community for all. In the coming days, weeks, months, and years, I look forward to working with you to be part of what’s next and what is needed.