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Librarians Will Save Us All

May 22, 2017, 7:12 PM UTC

Years ago, when I wrote for our sister publication, MONEY, I appeared on CNN to talk about how to rebuild your identity if every piece of your identification was lost and your community was in turmoil. It was after Hurricane Katrina, and people were scrambling to get in touch with banks, government agencies, and insurance providers, offering any proof of self they could.

It was advice I would go on to repeat during every storm, fire and landslide season after that: Get yourself to a public library. In a time before apps and consumer-friendly financial websites (things that plenty of people still don’t have ready access to, by the way) librarians were always there to help with everything from connecting people with the right forms to get their bills paid and claims processed, to finding essential health and legal services in their zip codes. Then, they’d give your traumatized kid a book to help them calm down and sort out their feelings. They’ve nailed the safe space thing.

That was the first time I fully grasped how nimble and responsive modern librarians had become in meeting the urgent needs of the communities they serve. With training, tools, and extraordinary dedication, they’re stepping courageously into breaches, both structural and emotional, created by all sorts of natural and human-made disasters. Hurricane Sandy and Ferguson are two recent examples, but that barely scratches the surface. Their role in modern emergency management systems is a growing field of study, shaped largely by their own efforts to do more, always with fewer resources.

But this recent story from The Philadelphia Inquirer has deepened my already profound respect for the work librarians are doing.

Columnist Mike Newall went to a library in the city’s Kensington neighborhood to check out an unusual tip: The staff there had been trained to administer Narcan, the lifesaving antidote used for heroin overdoses. Philadelphia is attracting an increasing number of “drug tourists” from all around the country, people who are drawn to the unusually high quality of the heroin in the city. This particular library sits on a hill above Philly’s own “Needle Park,” and is bearing witness to a terrible epidemic.

From his story:

They have been using the spray so often that they can tell the type of overdose simply by the sound coming from the lavatory: Heroin victims slide sluggishly into unconsciousness, the librarians have found, while victims of deadly fentanyl collapse instantly, with a thud that resonates through the entire building, which is called the McPherson Square Branch.

The situation has become so severe that the staff now practices “overdose drills.” Who stays with the victim? Who calls 911? Who ushers out the kids? Who waits for an ambulance?

And then, while Newall was on site for the story, it happened right in front of him.

This current responsiveness was born from bold action. The librarians did not wait for permission to offer lifesaving measures, they just went ahead and got themselves ready by asking Prevention Point Philadelphia, a needle-exchange program, to train them in the use of Narcan. Some two dozen librarians from six Philadelphia libraries showed up at the initial meeting, and they all plan to share what they’re doing with anyone who needs it. Newall hopes they do. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the opioid crisis – and with Philly on pace for 1,200 overdose deaths this year, a 30 percent jump from last year – it’s that help is needed everywhere.”

Makes you want to hug a librarian, doesn’t it? As information wranglers, digital experts and empathy generators, they are naturally inclusive program designers, who work well in leaderless teams and operate with a clear sense of purpose. (Can they also code? Asking for an industry.) Maybe it’s worth finding out what they need to succeed, and what they can teach us. What would we do without them? Let’s not wait for the next storm to find out.

On Point

Mississippi representative says that people who remove Confederate statues should be LYNCHEDHe sounded very, very upset. In a Facebook post, Rep. Karl Oliver, a Republican representing Winona, said the “destruction” of Confederate era monuments, erected in “loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans” was horrific. “If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, ‘leadership’ of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED!” The post was flagged on Twitter by Mississippi State Senator Derrick Simmons on Sunday night, causing an intense online discussion. Republican legislators have called for Oliver to apologize for referencing LYNCHING, but so far, nothing. In addition to his legislative duties, Oliver works as a funeral home director and has been known to get testy with voters. Click through for the political scoop.Jackson Free Press

Alabama prepares to restore voting rights to thousands of people convicted of felonies
Criminal justice reformers are cheering this latest development, which they hope will continue in other jurisdictions. Last week, a bill called the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act passed through Alabama’s legislature, and is expected to have “wide-reaching” impacts in the restoration of voting rights for people who have been convicted of certain kinds of felonies. “Addressing voter disenfranchisement has long been a component of the criminal justice reform process that many view as a necessary step towards changing the way America views—and treats—people who were formerly incarcerated,” says Kindred Motes, a digital strategist for the Vera Institute for Justice, a non-profit dedicated to ending mass incarceration. The bill is expected to be signed by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. 
Think Justice Blog

BLM co-founder discusses the inherent racism in a proposed change to Haitian immigration policy
The Trump administration is considering revising an important humanitarian protection afforded to Haitian immigrants, a devastating reversal which has its basis in racist posturing, says Opal Tometi, the Executive Director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration and a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which is set to expire in July, was first awarded to Haitian citizens after the devastating 2010 earthquake. If it is revoked, it would return some 50,000 immigrants to an island still suffering from ongoing infrastructure and public health crises and is utterly unprepared to take them. She cites the rationale at the heart of the reversal. “[T]he Department of Homeland Security is searching for evidence of criminal convictions of Haitian immigrants as it weighs whether to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS),” she writes. This rationale is “based on a ubiquitous, racist stereotype of Black migrants in particular — the myth of the Black criminal.”

Is Facebook allowing systemic bias to impede the work of black activists?
Writer, activist, journalist and poet Didi Delgado explains what the Black Tax is on Facebook: Because black activists who discuss racism are so frequently flagged by community members for “offensive content,” they typically maintain a second account to use when their primary account is frozen. It’s a tiring workaround. “That means bigoted trolls lurked my page reporting anything and everything, hoping I’d be in violation of the vague “standards” imposed by Facebook,” she explains. “It’s kinda like how white people reflexively call the cops whenever they see a Black person outside. Except in this case it’s not my physical presence they find threatening, it’s my digital one.” When you’re banned, you can read but you can’t post anything. “I find this doubly insulting because it’s reminiscent of early slave codes, which often made it permissible for enslaved people to read, but illegal for them to write (a potential catalyst for “insurrection and rebellion”),” she writes. It’s also worth noting that last year, Briana L. Urena-Ravelo, a writer and organizer,  wrote a similar post with the same title that is equally worth your time. “[Facebook is] an internet microcosm of what we mean when we say systems are inherently violence and give us racist, violent, hypocritical, nonsensical, unjust, inequitable and incongruent results,” she writes.

A black-owned construction company is stepping up to replace Flint’s water system
W.T. Stevens Construction, a black-owned construction firm of just 25 souls, has been awarded a multi-million dollar contract to replace more than 18,000 lead corroded pipes in the city of Flint. W.T. Stevens was founded by the late W.T. Stevens in the 1990s; it’s now run by his daughter Rhonda Grayer. Her husband, former Milwaukee Bucks player Jeff Grayer will be working as project manager for the contract. Both are Flint natives. “This is home for me and my family and I wasn't going to sit back and do nothing as a person or as a businessman,” said Jeff Grayer. It sounds like a win-win. “This is the biggest project our company has ever done and as a result of the water line contract our gross revenues have increased by about 70 percent.” Click through for the game plan.

The Woke Leader

Drag Queen literacy: Let Harmonica Sunbeam read your kids a story
Harmonica Sunbeam, all six-feet-purple-tutu-and-pink-camo-suitted of her, was a recent reader at a New York Public Library story hour in Greenwich Village. Turns out drag queens are exceptionally good at bringing stories to life and are utterly delightful for children. “Children love dressing up and being imaginative in what they wear,” said the Drag Queen Story Hour coordinator for New York. “They see drag queens as people who are doing the same thing, expressing themselves creatively and having fun with it.” They’re also cooler about gender issues. Drag Queen Story Hour is the invention of writer Michelle Tea, who launched the first one in the Bay Area in 2015. Subsequent events, carefully curated, have been huge successes, bringing in hundreds of families and positive media buzz. This year, Drag Queen Story Hours are being scheduled in the Bronx and Inwood section of Manhattan. If you schedule one at your local library or on-site daycare, please invite me.
New York Times

White supremacists groups are finding opportunities to recruit on campuses
They’re organized, articulate and attractive, and are rebuffing charges of racism as the lazy thinking of others. One such group, Identity Evropa, a self-described fraternity for white Europeans and their descendants, are planning on being very busy. "We're going to be setting up tables, and handing out thumb drives with videos," founder Nathan Damigo told NPR. "We're going to have booklets and stickers and so on." The former Iraq War vet became attracted to white supremacy while serving five years in prison for armed robbery. "Forced diversity and multiculturalism" he said, is "unnatural" and whites need territory "that is ours ... where we can be ourselves." Damigo recently became internet famous for punching a woman who was protesting at Berkley in the face. Click through to meet some more of his compatriots.

Notes on human capital theory and how we fought the Soviet Union
This is a chewy read and one that would likely not be made more palatable if spoken aloud by a drag queen. But it’s well worth your time. In the 1960s, two academics from the University of Chicago academics debated the fine points of human capital theory, at a time when the long and expensive Cold War with the then-Soviet Union seemed to be taking a dangerous turn. Tasked with informing U.S. policy, the debate between Theodore Schultz and Milton Friedman helped define the contours of economic tensions that persist today. If human capital belonged to the person, not the organization - that would be slavery, after all- then who should invest in the development of that person? “Friedman probably agreed with Schultz that human capital theory was the ideational weapon they’d been searching for to counter the Soviet threat on the economic front,” explains Cass Business School professor Peter Fleming. But Friedman dreamed of a world of bootstrapping entrepreneurs, released by the free markets. “Schultz’s rendition of human capital theory – with all its talk of public spending programmes and central planning – threatened to dilute this image of the independent, self-reliant pseudo-capitalist that everyone was assumed to be.” Spoiler alert: We didn’t end up with a society that invested in people and considered the related intellectual growth to be a public good. See also: Uber.


To my thinking, a great librarian must have a clear head, a strong hand, and, above all, a great heart. And when I look into the future, I am inclined to think that most of the men who achieve this greatness will be women.
—Melvil Dewey