Libraries and the Cultural Gap

My library story isn’t much different than most. It was my place as a kid to get books, to read, and sometimes meet friends. By the time I got to college, the library was where I spent a lot of time studying. Academic libraries stay open to the wee hours of the night, and I was there sometimes until the doors closed, and I wasn’t alone. I met classmates and friends there all the time. It was a safe place for student community to go, study and hang.

As a student, I had a work-study job in the music library on campus. I don’t think I realized that music on any level was available in libraries. The collection was overwhelming. I was a music lover before that job, and after three years of listening to different genres from all over the world, my mind and musical palette were expanded. Who would have known that I would end up working in libraries years later?

My library career began in 2001 at Detroit Public Library. My definition of library changed drastically. It was beyond books, beyond studying, beyond meeting friends. It was a cultural mecca, and many times the experiences were absolutely free:

  • – Author lectures from local and nationally known
  • – Jazz concerts
  • – Indie film festival
  • – Storytime for adults
  • – Holiday festivals that filled all the floors of the Main Library
  • – Spanish classes
  • – Network event at a local bar hosted by the library

This list could, of course, go on and on. The library is a comfortable cultural hub sitting in many of the neighborhoods in our cities, accessible to all and affordable to all. Comfortable is an important attribute. You can have great events and activities but if people do not feel comfortable coming to your space, if it is too unfamiliar to them, they will not come. Some of the things I experienced at the library are at times only available in theaters, elegant halls, and areas where some people in the neighborhoods have less access or resources to attend. But the library is in several neighborhoods, connected to the people and the community is a natural place to close this cultural gap. Libraries are the missing link to connecting regular, working-class, living life people to more cultural experiences and maybe to a larger part of their community.

As a visual artist, I want to continue to see more quality exhibitions and artwork in libraries.

  • – Remove the myth that art is only for the wealthy
  • – Give more people easier access to art
  • – Give artists and others a chance to share why art is important to everyone
  • – Expand each other’s audiences by gallery audience coming to the library and library audiences going to the gallery
  • – Give emerging artists an opportunity to exhibit work
  • – Give experienced artists a chance to connect with community

As I move on in my library journey, I want to promote libraries more and more as the answer to the cultural gap, and it will be our job to deliver on that promise with activities and space that is comfortable, beautiful and is in the business of cultivating our community and its members.