When the Library is Too Quiet

I have never loved the public library the way I do right now.

Seeing the halls of the library silent and dark and deserted today, after weeks of absence while working from home, moved me to tears as I finished photographing the empty stacks, empty public service desks, empty study tables.

The few people in the building to provide curbside service and security happened to be some of my most passionate and public-spirited coworkers. I was not ashamed to start weeping in front of them after I came back to the first floor with my camera dangling around my neck and said, “It’s sad.” And they understood.

I wasn’t crying because I missed my colleagues, though I do, and not because I missed my job, because I still have plenty of writing work to keep me busy at home.

No, what pierced my heart about those too-quiet scenes was my love for the library itself, one of the few public institutions that is purely dedicated to the welfare and good of all people. I’ve seen the programs our staff puts on. Thousands of high-quality programs every year teach people how to cook, use computer software, start businesses, paint, speak foreign languages, stay fit, or meditate.

The library is a place of happiness for all the people who meet with their friends in clubs in our meeting rooms or share food together while learning about nutrition.

The library is a place of refuge for the many young people who visit us after school and can receive a free meal then if they need one. Bullies can’t get you in the stacks–the pages of a book or a graphic novel can enfold you and protect you from the hardships of teen life during those precious library hours.

The library is a place of opportunity for so many who come through our doors every day looking for pathways to a better life. And often, they find those pathways—find better jobs, learn how to solve their problems, and discover the free resources that they need to help themselves.

The library is a place of fun and community sharing. Here, people call out sassy comments at vintage horror movies at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater and laugh uproariously together. They marvel at the beautiful Arkansas artworks in our galleries while sipping wine and snacking on cheese dip. They sit in hushed silence and then explode into cheers and applause after the amazing concerts that light up our evenings.

The library is a place where people find themselves and each other.

I miss seeing the goodness of the library and its people in person at work every day. I miss it dearly, in a world that needs goodness and the strong pool of light cast by this public library system.

I am a part of this library. You are a part of this library. We are all the warm and living pulse that runs through the veins of this library.

The library is not gone. It is still here for you, in the services we are providing right now at curbside and digitally. It will survive despite everything.  It’s still here in the vibrant staff members you see working in our adult and children’s virtual programming. But what I love most about the library lives in the everyday interactions between the staff members and the people, talking to each other, and the new worlds that open up with our resources and our programs. And our beloved library will be back, to bring us together again in person. We just have to be patient. The power of the public library is the power of all of us together, and that is a strength that can overcome any challenge.


Feature by Rosslyn Elliott