What Happens When You Close The Library
Saturday, July 09, 2011
Wednesday afternoon I sat down on the Knight Memorial library steps in a last ditch attempt at educating four knowledge-hungry young students. We could not enter the building, because library workers had prematurely shut down the building at 11 am after citing their right to work in a building less then 85 degrees warm. So instead of immediately trekking back, the four kids and I sweltered away ourselves, too eager for some interactive learning time to immediately return home.
One sibling, a seven year old first grader, was just passed out of kindergarten. He knows five letters, ten numbers, and about five common English phrases. He arrived in PPSD in May, and his teacher was told to pass him regardless. He knows he must spend his summer afternoons practicing letters and learning addition, and the city should know it too. These children who I tutor through Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment need to be offered books, they need a quiet space that encourages learning, and they need a library.
Now, when I visited Providence’s Rochambeau Public Library earlier this very same morning with the two private school east side children I nanny, I enjoyed luxurious air conditioning and a pleasant book selection experience. The two children and I ambled through shelves and decided upon a plethora of young reader novels that the boys will read avidly over the next week. It was really quite a wonderful way to start off my day.
As I then attempted to conjure up some sort of makeshift learning atmosphere after being denied an equally agreeable and worthwhile library experience, three adolescent boys arrived. In these three boys I saw the immense beauty of shared learning and academic hunger, and a horrible ugliness that results from boredom, frustration, and misunderstanding.
One of the boys immediately joined our clan and requested a sheet of paper so he too could practice his multiplication facts. When I couldn’t come up with problems fast enough for the growing group, I sent him to help my first grader practice her sight words, such as “to”, “the”, and “of”. He rose to the occasion brilliantly, and they worked in harmony for quite some time.
But the other two boys had limited interest in scrap pieces of paper scribbled with hurried math equations. They instead grabbed the permanent markers, a keystone in my plastic bag full of teaching devices I had thankfully [I thought] decided to tote along on our library venture, and started writing on the closure sign and on the library’s stone steps themselves. Once I had realized what has happened, I demanded the markers back and angrily scolded them before shoeing them away. But it was too late.
The word “WELCOME” is now scratched across the entrance to the library. Ironic really, that this boy who was denied to access to the building would decide to write a seemingly inviting and supportive word. For in fact he was not welcome to educate himself on this summer afternoon, and he consequently became a delinquent.
Before all of this occurred, a middle age man had climbed the grandiose stairs to try to write an email to her mother, before learning of the premature closing. He quickly befriended us and advised my children “the pen is mightier than the sword”. He said to me, “teach, explain to them what that means”. I did, and this is what they wrote:
We want you to keep this library open because people want to learn. We came this afternoon and we were going to read a book but we read the note on the door and we were so sad. We had to sit on the steps to write this note for you guys. This is a public library and we want it open.
Heat Shouldn't Get In The Way
I am not a certified teacher. I am not a registered Rhode Island voter. I do not state Providence as my primary residence. Really, it should not matter to me that the Knight Memorial Library shut its doors to learning on Wednesday due to “heat”. But the public library’s 11 o’clock closure significantly altered my plans this afternoon when I walked four Providence public school students over to the big stone building for a needed tutoring session. “Heat” ended up marring not only my work plan, but also my perspective on this city.
Money for air conditioning seems like a fair request- I do not believe we do not generally withhold air conditioning from our public offices. Do we let prisoners out of jail because we cannot afford to keep them humanly cool? Do we cease sorting the city’s mail, it’s system of communication, because it is just too hot to send it out today? Do we cut off the electricity to our local police stations because, well, they can carry on with business with a little sweat on their brows? I believe we do not. Because we deem the jails, the post office, and the police station as necessary civic institutions. So when did public education become unnecessary? It certainly is needed to keep children out of budget-draining jails. Indeed, if we continue shutting down libraries, we won’t make any progress financially. There is a direct link between education and delinquency. Without it, you become one, just as the marker stealing, “welcome” writing boy did.
I urge this city to please find the money for some air conditioning. I urge Providence citizens to work together to reconcile the differences between the Providence Public Library and the Providence Community Library. Providence children could be writing on paper inside one of humanity’s oldest and most treasured spaces, instead of defiling the walls outside and pleading for an education society should have already granted them, and that has granted to others in the very same city.
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