Libraries may seem an unlikely place to go in the search for answers after the police shooting of Philando Castile and Black Lives Matter protests in the Twin Cities.
But the Hennepin County Library, the state’s largest library system, has responded by launching a Black Lives Matter teen reading list that is now being replicated at libraries across the country. For the first time, one of its reading lists also has been picked up by national publications.
It’s part of an effort by public libraries across the country to take action after the troubling events, hoping that the power of books can help educate residents on racial issues and support the community.
“It’s in the DNA of a library to do this,” Library Director Lois Langer Thompson said. “Reading is part of the healing and helps us understand.”
In Ferguson, Mo., the public library stayed open to serve the community even though schools and stores closed after the 2014 protests. Last week in Texas, the Dallas library hosted counselors for the community after five police officers were killed by a gunman.
The Ramsey County Library last winter hosted a three-part history series on civil rights and Black Lives Matter. And after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the Hennepin County Library put together a reading list to help parents find a way to talk to children about that tragedy.
With the recent Black Lives Matter protests over the death of Castile, a black St. Paul man fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer, the library is reminding residents that its 41 public libraries remain open for people to hold meetings and browse its 5 million books.
The library also issued its Black Lives Matter reading list of 17 books for teens, which was picked up by American Libraries and Publishers Weekly, national publications.
Hennepin County librarians now are fielding calls from libraries across the country seeking more details, Thompson said.
“Hennepin County Library is seen as a leader,” she added.
The library followed the teen list with a Black Lives Matter book list specifically for children, to help parents explain current events to them.
“You can’t turn on the news without hearing about [police shootings in] Baton Rouge or Minnesota,” Thompson said. Library officials, she said, “see it as a starting point for discussion. How we gain empathy and understand each other. … We have to understand people’s stories.”
Hennepin County Library’s response is part of its broader outreach efforts, such as a pop-up library to promote library access in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The library system has a history of responding to crises, whether environmental or political, Thompson said. It’s a way to provide more for the community than just a place to pick up books, she said.
The Black Lives Matter reading list isn’t about promoting a particular point of view, Thompson said, but about educating people, spurring conversations about the issues and helping teens and children understand racial issues.
“They look to books for answers,” she said. “I do believe in the power of a book to change a life.”
To see the county library’s reading lists, go to bit.ly/29rXmjG for teens and bit.ly/29R1cUN for kids.