Transcript: Library for the People Episode 2: The Library as the Soul of the Community
Alison Cuddy: So, um, why don't I just have you identify yourself, your full name, who you are, what you do.
Stephanie Davenport: And how much time do we have?
Cuddy: Let's see how it goes.
Davenport: My name is Dr. Stephanie Davenport, and I am a lifelong learner and, uh, apparently lifelong educator.
Cuddy: Dr. Davenport is also a lifelong Chicagoan. A fact which is well illustrated by her resume.
Davenport: Started high school English teacher, product of the Chicago State University, and, um, also an avid reader. And, uh, going from there, to being of the founding principal for the Betty Shabazz International Charter School, and now being a teacher coach at our second school, which is of course Barbara Sizemore Academy.
Cuddy: So you are deep in the world of education, of reading, of libraries, and um, I wanted you to talk a little bit about your connection to Hall Branch. So you said you would go there with your mom after dance classes?
Davenport: Yes. On 47th Street, which was, uh, just the edge of Bronzeville. That was the place where you would go to get your, all kinds of things.
My mother wanted us to be well-rounded, in the sense of being able to be exposed to so many kinds of, uh, activities. And so my sister and I were taking ballet lessons, tap dance lessons. Sadler down the street on Indiana, and then we would walk over to Hall Branch.
Cuddy: The George C. Hall Branch, or Hall Branch for short, is in the neighborhood of Bronzeville on the south side of Chicago. Two of its inaugural librarians, Vivian G. Harsh and Charlemae Hill Rollins, made this an important place in Chicago's Black history. It is also hugely important to Dr. Davenport's personal history.
Davenport: She wanted us to go there because of a special little section. And that was the children's section. And it was headed by Charlemae Rollins. And it was the first time that I was able to hear stories and see book covers of children who looked like me.
Cuddy: Dr. Davenport says reading children's books, like “Bright April” by Marguerite De Angeli, had a profound impact.
Davenport: See, I was a Brownie scout and Bright April, she was a Brownie too. And she had two pigtails like I did. But most of all, she had a brown face like I did. And so that was just like [gasps] an aha moment.
Cuddy: When you were at Hall Branch was, um, Charlemae Rollins still there?
Davenport: Yeah. Yes, she was. She was the one reading it to us.
Cuddy: Oh, wow. What was she like?
Davenport: She was a very calm lady, kind of like an auntie or something like that, you know, so you would like, uh, sit on the floor and you would just get ready to, to read. And she read with such, such a joy in her voice to say, I'm sharing this with you.
Cuddy: From the Chicago Public Library Foundation and PRX, this is Library for the People, a podcast celebrating 150 years of public libraries in Chicago. I'm Alison Cuddy.
On today's episode, how librarians both serve and create community. We’ll be revisiting the historic role of two librarians who went above and beyond to advance Chicago's emergence as a Black metropolis in the 1930s. And we’ll learn what building community at Southside branches looks like today.
Kimberly Hagen: I am Kimberly Hagen. I'm the branch manager here of the George C. Hall Branch Library. It is one of the oldest library branches for Chicago Public Library. It was built in 1931 and it actually opened to the public in 1932.
Cuddy: Perched on the corner of 48th Street and South Michigan Avenue, you can't miss Hall Branch. It looks like a little castle with its stone facade, central tower and series of pyramid-shaped roofs. Inside ornate dark wood paneling climbs up the walls and the elegant original circulation desk still stands.
Hall is still a neighborhood landmark. It also represents an important milestone in library history.
Hagen: The building was named after George C. Hall, who was a physician actually at Provident Hospital, which is right around the corner from here. And he was also one of the first Black board members of Chicago Public Library in the 1930s. And he specifically wanted a library for African Americans who were coming up from the South during the Great Migration. Um, he was also friends and worked with Julius Rosenwald, who, if people don't know, he was the president, founder of the Sears retail store.
And so Julius Rosenwald donated the land for the library and then, George C. Hall, you know, pushed the city to build a library for this area.
Cuddy: Dr. George Cleveland Hall, a renowned surgeon, and Julius Rosenwald, a famed businessman, found common ground in their commitment to - in the spirit of Booker T. Washington - racial uplift. Rosenwald funded the construction of schools in rural Black communities across the south, helped equip YMCAs and supported progressive institutions like Chicago's Hull House and Provident Hospital, the first and eventually largest Black-owned and operated hospital in the United States.
As Chief of Staff at Provident and President of the Chicago Urban League, Hall expanded healthcare services to support the hundreds of thousands of Black Southerners coming to Chicago, part of the great migration.
While life in the city offered many opportunities to these newcomers, the move from the south to the north and from rural communities or small towns to a densely populated, bustling city was challenging. Dr. Hall saw the need to do more. Like many of the people you'll meet in this episode, he dedicated himself to promoting the historical and contemporary contributions of Black people.
He was one of the five founding members of what's now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History or ASALA. He saw in libraries the perfect place to further this mission while also helping southern migrants acclimate to their new community.
The library provided the perfect people to make this happen.
Hagen: Vivian G. Harsh was the first Black branch manager for Chicago Public Library and her first branch manager position was at Hall Branch.
Another famous librarian here is Charlamae Rollins, who was a huge influence in, um, positive portrayals of Black people in children's literature.
Cuddy: Vivian G. Harsh and Charlemae Hill Rollins are perhaps the most famous librarians in Chicago Public Library history. Both were trailblazers who had long, illustrious careers at the library and made significant contributions to their field.
Starting in the 1930s and continuing over two decades, Chicago was home to an outpouring of Black creativity across the arts and letters, akin to the earlier Black Renaissance of Harlem, New York.
Harsh and Rollins helped make that possible by turning Hall Branch into a resource and a haven for Black intellectuals and artists. Kimberly Hagen takes me into a room with portraits of some of them. Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks…
Hagen: Most of these writers, like Langton Hughes and um, Richard Wright came here to do research for the things that they were writing about at the time.
Cuddy: That research for such books as Wright's novel, “Native Son,” was made possible by the collection that Harsh and Rollins developed. One specifically meant to document Black history, culture, community, and life.
Hagen: It's what George C. Hall wanted - a library for African Americans to come and feel comfortable to do their research, uh, having a branch librarian who was collecting, doing the work of finding the information, resources, research, everything that they needed to use to learn about their community. And also preserve the culture and use it for the future.
Cuddy: Coming up, we'll learn more about the community building Harsh and Rollins did to advance Black culture as well as the work of librarians in Chicago and well beyond. Before we leave Hall though, I ask Kimberly Hagen how she feels connected to their work and legacy.
Hagen: I think we just try to carry on the torch of Vivian G. Harsh. We still try to do a lot of programming for the community. We just had an exhibit, uh, for the history of Black nurses in Chicago, which was an integral part of the, the city since when Provident Hospital opened.
So, um, just sharing that history, which is what Vivian G. Harsh did. She wanted to collect every aspect of Black culture and history in the community, and even from around the world and have it at, Hall Branch. So hopefully we're carrying on that kind of legacy.
Cuddy: Coming up on Library for the People.
Stacie Williams: This really is American history and there's so many amazing Black people situated at the center of that.
Cuddy: Stay with us.
[Chicago Public Library Foundation ad]
Cuddy: Okay, we're back. We've left Bronzeville and Hall Branch and made our way further south and west in Chicago to the community of Washington Heights and the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library. Woodson is enormous. First opened in 1975, the library underwent a renovation in 2018 to restore and remake the facade. It’s beautiful terracotta exterior stretches down most of the block at 95th and Halsted Streets. Large glass installations above the entrance and along the north side of the building feature black and white portraits of Woodson and Vivian G. Harsh.
Woodson is a community anchor, and we'll find out what that looks like today in just a moment, but it's also home to the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, which is the largest African American history and research collection in the Midwest.
We're here to learn more about the women whose work built this place, Vivian Harsh and Charlemae Rollins. We start by sitting down with two of the librarians deeply involved with the archive today.
Jordan McKenna: My name is Jordan McKenna. Uh, I am a librarian at, to this collection, the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection.
Stacie Williams: My name is Stacie Williams. I'm the Division Chief for Archives and Special Collections here at CPL.
Cuddy: The archive is a large and serene space dominated by a magnificent bronze sculpture called Jacob's Ladder by the Chicago artist Richard Hunt. In the quiet of this early weekday morning, a few people are at work at the large tables spread out around the room.
The archive sees lots of different people coming through, according to Jordan McKenna.
McKenna: Researchers from all over the world. Um, certainly all over the city. My personal favorites, which are students working on history fair projects (children's librarian answer), um, but truly people who are working on documentaries, um, working to uncover sort of, you know, Black stories that haven't been, um, highlighted, uh, and, you know, to sort of share those stories with the broader audience.
Our hope, you know, is, is, is everybody really - this is a public library. That's, so that's what's so unusual about this collection specifically, um, is housed in a public library. Public libraries are for everyone. You don't need to have, you know, be enrolled at a university or anything to have access to this.
Cuddy: The collection at Woodson is full of fascinating histories told through photographs, papers and over 60,000 books. You can find the papers of Timuel D. Black, famed educator and civil rights activist who knew the ins and outs of Chicago history and politics like the back of his own hand.
Charlemae Hill Rollins papers are also here, and the archives of Hall Branch, as are the original books, many of them rare, that form the basis of the Special Negro Collection that Vivian Harsh put together, including a copy of the Dred Scott decision, published in 1857.
Given that Harsh and Rollins worked together closely and for a really long time, I wanted to know what their relationship was like in and out of the library.
McKenna: My understanding is that they were lifelong friends at, uh, certainly professionally.
Um Vivian Harsh, um, whom the collection is named after, was a Chicagoan who was a socialite, was a member of the Old Settlers Club, which is, an elite circle of, Black families that lived here before, sort of the great wave of migrants coming north. So Vivian Harsh was, um, very strict, uh, about, you know, what about, use of the library, about what you looked like when you came to the library, about who could use, you know, the collection.
You picture when people say the stereotype of a librarian, you know, you know, she was, you know, she's, she was called, uh, a perfectionist, right? A professional perfectionist, and she truly was.
Um, and Charlemae Hill Rollins was a storyteller, you know, she was, her story times were so well attended and she was known for, um, really capturing an audience.
She was warm and cuddly and, you know, she, she loved kids, uh, and she was sort of like vibrant and bubbly. Um, which, so it was kind of hilarious because they're just two very, very different figures. But they were able to kind of, uh, combine and, and sort of like move forward, it seems like almost single mindedly in this mission to create this.
Cuddy: Stacie Williams explains that part of what determined how Harsh and Rollins set about building the collection was the specific time and place they inhabited.
Williams: Vivian Harsh was so deeply embedded in the community in a social way. And again, this is also because at that time, segregation meant Black people of all like class backgrounds and everything that we're all essentially living in proximity to each other.
So, the manner in which she was able to, you know, meet and correspond with, uh, scholars and writers and artists, uh, people like Carter G. Woodson, the, the father of Black History Month. Those folks were already in the community that she was part of. That trust was already built in. So I think she inherently understood how she could do the job that she needed to do as a librarian.
Cuddy: Jordan McKenna says Vivian Harsh's deep passion for Black history took her far and wide, using her time off and sometimes spending her own money to acquire materials for the collection.
McKenna: She traveled to, to develop this collection. Um, and part of the, you know, the relationships that she made, uh, as that, uh, Stacie was talking about, um, with, you know, sort of like writers and all of the, sort of like intellectuals, I guess of, of the time.
Um, she, they came to use her collection and then she, you know, and then she got them to add more to the collection and this was like a lifelong endeavor for her.
Cuddy: Hall Branch was also a mecca because of the programming Harsh did, including the book review and lecture forum, which included presentations on a book or timely topic, followed by a discussion among the attendees. Major intellectuals and writers such as Langston Hughes, presented work there, as did community members, some of whom also helped Harsh program the series. Alongside their collection building and public programming work, Harsh and Rollins both did extensive community outreach. Circulation increased, and so did their influence.
Williams: I think with the work that Charlemae Hill Rollins was doing, in terms of reaching out, not only just in her role as a CPL librarian. But advocating across the publishing industry, advocating across groups of educators who taught English and we'd be assigned to teaching literature that she was a huge advocate for making sure that there were books that represented Black children, positively and affirmatively, and not just through stereotype. That was a big part of her work as a children's librarian was making sure that the collection had those things because she understood how important it was for people of all ages, but especially young children finding and seeing themselves reflected in the world.
McKenna: Almost single-mindedly in this mission, right? To, to create this, this branch library for their community.
Cuddy: As groundbreaking as their work was at the time, both McKenna and Williams think it also set the terms for the work they do today.
Williams: I'd say as a Black archivist, um, all the work that we kind of do is structured in a continuum of work started by people like Vivian Harsh, or by people like Arturo Schomburg, or by Mayme Clayton of the Western Historical Society in California. Those are folks who really laid the groundwork for essentially work that Black archivists have done that I think that in the years that the field has really established itself.
McKenna: To try to wrap your mind around the kind of foresight it really takes to understand the need for the preservation of Black history and then, the ability to make that happen, and then, you know, for it to be happening, so long into the future that I can, you know, still be involved in it, that connection feels powerful. Um, and then Charlemae Hill Rollins was a children's librarian, um, which I also was and still am.
One of the first things I learned about Charlemae Hill Rollins was that she, um, held literacy workshops for parents.
She held these reading guidance workshops. You know, parents would come in and they'd speak with her and learn about literature options for their kids. The last thing I did as a children's librarian was I held early literacy workshops for parents who were expecting new babies into their families. To talk about early literacy in the library and sort of how, you could connect to the library before you had access maybe to school or, the more formal ways that we educate our children in this society.
So I, I was like, oh, is this me? You know, you know, you still, you feel, you feel how the work that they were doing really reverberates through time.
Williams: The work necessary to maintain the material items that tell the story of our history, yes it is hard work, it takes people who are trained to do the work and and it's, it's not easy. It actually takes a long time.
There is an overall interest in history because without understanding that history and having that context and understanding that this history is interconnected, um, that Black history here in Chicago is extremely special because of the role that Chicago politics and Black people involved in Chicago politics and Chicago life played in a lot of national movements of social and political and historical significance.
This really is American history and there's so many amazing Black people situated at the center of that.
The experience also of Black people here in America is one of joy. It's one of innovation and ingenuity. It's one of political engagement and civic engagement and social life. And just as, just as broad and as rich as all of the other communities that make up the city, this country.
Cuddy: Jordan McKenna leads us over to a table where she's gathered some materials from the collection…
McKenna: [in background] Okay so my favorites…
Cuddy: Photographs and letters that help convey the life and times and work of Harsh and Rollins.
McKenna: I am a Charlemae Hill Rollins stan. Um, so there is Charlemae Hill Rollins sitting at a table, uh, surrounded by children, uh, who just are, I mean, are like open mouthed. And so excited to be, to be hearing from her. Everybody, all of the focus is on her and the story that she's reading.
Just that she's got a book, um, she's holding up a book and, uh, and everyone just looks like they're so, so interested in what she's saying.
Cuddy: Rollins also established deep connections with writers and thinkers. In her later years, she even wrote a biography of her close friend Langston Hughes, which won a Coretta Scott King Book Award in 1971.
There's a letter from Hughes here in a cozy, familiar tone that clearly conveys their closeness and a tribute from a great Chicago poet.
McKenna: Gwendolyn Brooks considered her something of like a mentor.
You know, they had a really close relationship. And this poem is, uh, a tribute that Gwendolyn Brooks wrote for Charlemae Rollins. And it says, “her gift is long delayed and even now is paid…”
Tiff Beatty: [reading the poem] Her gift is long delayed, and even now is paid in insufficient measure. Rhymeful reverence for such excellence is microscopic treasure. Nothing is enough for one who gave us clarity, who gave us sentience, who gave us definition, who gave us of her vision.
Cuddy: I wonder if they received pushback or if their work was well received.
Williams: I mean, this is an interesting question. The long tail of history says obviously their, their legacy, you know, expands far beyond anything that we would know. But in the time, uh, you know, if you're really just looking at the annual reports and the photographs of programs, they were really just carrying out librarians work. It wasn't that they weren't lauded for it, you know, also in that time period or in that timeframe. Many archival records over there.
I, with a lot of reports of a lot of executive leadership at the library lauding the work of Vivian Harsh and, and really, you know, behind the scenes advocating for her to be that head over Hall Branch. And, you know, knowing that she was held in very high esteem here professionally, that's a huge deal.
Cuddy: Jordan McKenna points to another document for the archive that makes clear that Harsh and Rollins were powerful activists.
McKenna: One of my favorite, uh, pieces is this letter that she wrote, basically condemning the ALA's decision to hold a conference in the segregated South. Uh, and it is scathing.
Shamil Clay: [reading the letter] My son writes me that he is knee deep in French mud and has been since D-Day. My brother is manning the tank in the front lines in Germany. I wonder if they're fighting for democracy or if they're blindly fighting for Ms. Warren's unattainable principle.
Cuddy: Ms. Warren would be Althea H Warren, former Chicago Public Library librarian and president of the American Library Association from 1941 to 1944. Though the ALA did not change its venue, Jordan McKenna says, Rollins's activism had other meaning.
McKenna: I especially love, she wrote this in 1944. Um, right above you'll see this image in 1955. Uh, that's Charlemae Hill Rollins receiving uh, an award from the ALA president, so did not, did not disrupt her career.
But truly, I mean, the impact, right. Just to think about, you know, this is not just Chicago at this point. This is a national platform.
Cuddy: Looking at the photographs of Rollins and Harsh, reading these letters, the sense of history and the importance of their achievements is palpable. Their struggles are still part of the work of contemporary librarians like Stacie Williams.
Williams: This is still something that we deal with in librarianship today.
The field, by and large, is still 80 something percent white. Um, so attempts to diversify the field, um, you know, essentially, especially knowing that you need things like conferences to help meet people, to help expand your professional development and learn things that you didn't know before.
Cuddy: Williams says this was very clear when she attended the School of Library Science and Information at Simmons University in Boston. The very same program Vivian Harsh herself graduated from.
Williams: When I went to Simmons, one of my first teachers was the first Black person to get a PhD in archives management. And that was well into like the 2010s. Um, Vivian Harsh was doing this work back in 1932. And in that program there were seven of us in a program that actually had like a few hundred people in it. So seven Black archivists.
I think what you do understand in library school, especially as, as a Black person in this country, the weight of that is understanding that, you know, not really that long ago, people who looked like me would be killed for trying to read. You could, you would have been killed, your children might have been sold. Um, so the weight of then going through library school where the goal is books, the goal is literacy, and all of a sudden you are in charge of, of doing that and helping facilitate that for others. I, I simply think Vivian Harsh knew the weight of that, probably.
So she walked as someone who knew that weight and who understood, um, the, the sort of ancestral responsibility that that entails.
You do not go in any doors by yourself. And Tony Morrison said, leave the door open behind you. So that's also the, the responsibility this, this work and making access to these things.
It's also about, I think, creating the conditions for other people to see themselves doing this work. Other work, more work.
Here we are in our 150th year as CPL. ALA is going to be here in Chicago this summer. So, I think just being able to have those questions posed and think about that from the historical context and look at, you know, how far things have come, it's, always deeply compelling.
Cuddy: Stacie Williams was the division chief for archives and special collections for the Chicago Public Library when this interview was conducted .
Her colleague Jordan McKenna is a librarian with the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection at Woodson Library. Thanks to a $2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the work Williams and McKenna are doing to digitize and make historic Black archives more accessible, will expand part of the Black Renaissance Project at the Chicago Public Library.
Coming up, the legacy of Hall Branch, Vivian Harsh and Charlemae Rollins continues to be important at the Chicago Public Library. After a quick break, we'll explore what their commitment to community building looks like today.
Veleda Simpson: Well, the role of the regional library is to be more of a community center. It's a larger library that lends itself more to research, extensive programming and a lot of services for the community.
Cuddy: Stay with us.
[Chicago Public Library Foundation ad]
Cuddy: We're still at Woodson Regional Library, but we've headed up to the second floor to talk with Woodson's director, Veleda Simpson. When it comes to library philosophy, Simpson is a kindred spirit to the library's namesake, Carter G. Woodson.
Simpson: As the director of the Carter G. Woodson Library where, he himself, Carter G. Woodson is the father of Black History Month, and, was a scholar, an educator, an activist in his own right.
And I do consider myself to be an activist librarian. He started the, um, celebration of Black History Week that then grew into Black History Month, but he also wrote, um, a very famous book, “The miseducation of the Negro Child.” And so, we incorporate all that we've learned into, talking about our culture, explaining our history, lifting up pioneers who have done amazing things because of the narrative that the majority population created about African American, Black people, negro people, back then.
And so, as a result of that, it's important that we continue to carry the torch. And I'm, I'm working on this project since I've arrived to do - Black history is every month at Woodson Library.
So a regional library is very unique and special in this library system.
Cuddy: When you talk about the community, what neighborhoods come here?
Simpson: Oh wow. So primarily Washington Heights, Roseland are our primary community users. But people come from all over, all of the South Side, south Shore, even like Hyde Park area, Beverly, all over the south.
We find also the south suburbs come here quite often as well. During the pandemic when a lot of the suburban libraries were closed and we were open, um, we had a lot of patrons that came from the south suburbs to come for computer services and things of that nature. So we have a broad reach, across the South Side of Chicago.
Cuddy: As we've learned, libraries are important community resources as repositories of specific histories and memories. Increasingly, they also help support care for the body and mind of people in the community.
Simpson: I would say probably 30% of our program participation is health services. There are a lot of health disparities in the neighborhood, so, health organizations come to us to partner with us for education and as a community hub, we are ideal partners.
Cuddy: Veleda and her team have partnered with a local OBGYN and along with books on tape or DVDs, you can also check out a blood pressure cuff to use at home.
One program, which already was in place when Veleda arrived, came directly from a very active community member
Simpson: So um, they had a tagline saying that Woodson Library was Chicago's first dementia friendly library. And that is a result of this gentleman sitting next to me, Mr. Melvin Thompson, who is the executive director of Endeleo Institute.
Melvin Thompson: I got an opportunity to lead an organization back in 2014 in this Washington Heights community to revitalize it’s 95th Street corridor. And I didn't have a roadmap.
Cuddy: As Thompson looked around for places to begin this project, he noticed Woodson Library, or rather he noticed something in need of a fix.
Thompson: Here was a library that had fallen into severe disrepair over the last, what, ten, fifteen years.
So there was this scaffolding around the entire building, and if you had never visited Woodson, you would drive up and say, oh, okay, the scaffolding, there's about to be work and activity for repair. Well, that scaffolding was up for like 15 years and it became part of the fabric of the library and, and all of a sudden it was unnoticeable.
It was just part of the library.
Cuddy: Thompson had found his revitalization project. He started rallying community members to pressure the city to repair Woodsonson. And the Chicago Library Foundation was able to secure a large grant library. Library leaders decided to commit it entirely to Woodson, given its historic importance and stature in the community.
Thompson: Fast forward to 2018 when we celebrated the grand reopening of the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library during Black History Month, mind you, uh, it was a victory for the community.
Cuddy: And this was just the beginning of Thompson's involvement with Woodson. During the renovation, one of his staff members revealed their mother had been diagnosed with dementia. The research they had gathered to help their mom seemed like a valuable asset for the entire community.
Thompson: A colleague told me, “Melvin, you know, the library as safe, welcoming, and non-judgemental as it is, could be a health information hub” because this disease is so pervasive and so, it's so mysterious and you don't know what it is. People think it's senility and it comes with just going, oh, but it is actually a brain disease.
And so we went to the city and said, “could this library, because of its regional footprint, and that it feeds other branches, could it be a health information hub for dementia education?” And they were like, “sure, what do you need from us?” And so that was the, the impetus for creating a library health advisory board and in the midst of all of that, Alison, it hits my doorstep. My mom is diagnosed, uh, with dementia, you know. She's repeating herself and all these things. And so what I'm learning in my, in my work life actually hits home.
This disease is rampant in the African American community by a two to one ratio.
Cuddy: Woodson is now an information hub for dementia education, and it's also a safe space for those with dementia. Thanks to the partnership between Thompson and Woodson, staff have been trained to understand what to look for.
Thompson: A person who comes in and asks about maybe a book, or asks about something and then comes back five minutes later and asks about the same thing.
That training that the staff has undergone is critical because the recognition, they don't have to be, you know, trained, you know, professionally to, to respond to it, but just to recognize it.
Cuddy: Melvin and Veleda believe serving those with dementia also helps many others.
Thompson: The library is a sanctuary, if you will, for respite, because it is documented that a person caring for someone with dementia is more likely to die before the person that they're caring for.
Because out of a sense of duty, particularly in the African American community where, “my mama raised me, I gotta take care of her.”
You don't eat, nutrition. All of these things…
Cuddy: You neglect your own health.
Thompson: …neglect your own help to care for someone, um, that you love and you're not doing a really good job of it because you need a team.
And so this is a space where you can glean the kind of information that is priceless and take a load off at the same time.
Cuddy: And that's why Thompson stresses that Woodson Regional Library is not just a community center, it is the center of the community.
Thompson: This is the community center. We, we don't have a Washington Heights Community Center, so this space serves as that safe, welcoming, non-judgmental space where people can see their neighbors. Um, you know, like back in the day when neighbors knew each other and and you know, you could actually build some kind of social capital and cohesion in the neighborhood. That's what this library is.
Cuddy: It's a public communal space.
Thompson: It's a communal space. The city's own data said that 25,000 patrons came through the turnstiles of this library on a monthly basis. 25,000. So, don't underestimate the regional landscape and impact that this library has.
Cuddy: Next time on Library for the People: ideas. Libraries are important repositories of ideas of all kinds. Why has that mission become so controversial in the United States and what are librarians doing to preserve our access?
Library for the People is a production of PRX and the Chicago Public Library Foundation. This show is produced by Minju Park and Shane McEwen. The senior producer is Andrew Gill, and the executive producer is Jocelyn Gonzalez. It is mixed by M. Jacobs. Special shoutouts this episode to Tiff Beatty of the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago for reading the poem by Gwendolyn Brooks and to Shamil Clay, who read Charlemae Rollins's letter to the American Library Association.
Mary Ellen Messner, Rica Bouso and Shamil Clay gave production oversight for Chicago Public Library, Morgan Church and Edwin Ochoa manage the project for PRX. I'm Alison Cuddy. See you next time on Library for the People.