Kindness First

I work at the public library.

More specifically, I’m a monitor for two branches in the city of Thousand Oaks.

I consider this work, like my previous career as a public school teacher, to be a privilege.

(Plus I get this super-cool badge. Don’t be jealous.)

Although neither job comes with a big paycheck, both are rewarding in other ways—some definable, some more difficult to articulate.

And I feel lucky to have served—to continue to serve—in these environments that are, by law, for everyone.

Everyone.

(If something that’s open to ALL doesn’t sound super-cool to you, I’m so sorry. No really. I feel sorry for you.)

Yes, working for the library—with its revolving, non-exclusionary demographic—is a privilege, but the job can also be tricky sometimes.

Consider the juggling act of managing a space where one person is seeking silence while another is hard of hearing and shouting questions:

WHERE ARE YOUR HARRY POTTER BOOKS?!

Shhh.

WHAT?!

SHHH!

(Constant compromise. Oh, the humanity!)

More seriously though, we assist patrons who have mental, physical, and emotional challenges. There is wealth disparity to navigate. Diversity in religion, race, nationality, language.

But we strive to make all who pass through our doors feel welcome, safe and comfortable.

No one has to prove their worth to use the library. Their worthiness exists the minute they arrive.

Hello, we’re glad you’re here. This place is for you. How can we help?

(I freaking love that.)

The system isn’t perfect, but we keep trying to do better. To be better.

Why?

Maybe it’s idealistic, but I think we believe in something bright and beautiful: The spread of knowledge. Information at your fingertips. Support. Dignity. Belonging.

Of course you’re still welcome here—whether you show up once every three years, every three months, or every single day.

Welcome.

See?

Super-cool.

(And anyway, there’s nothing wrong with working toward an ideal even if you fall short of the goal.)

Of course the employees of libraries—or public schools, for that matter—aren’t perfect. We have hard days. We shoulder conflicts.

Then we straighten our shoulders, take a deep breath, and start over again.

(Our Thousand Oaks branch. Bright and beautiful.)

The day of the Borderline Shootings, our center became the reunification site for victims and loved ones. Later that night, when the Woolsey and Hill fires erupted, our doors opened to displaced individuals and families evacuated from their homes. In a terrifying time, the library was somewhere to go for help. No questions asked.

In the weeks that followed, FEMA set up shop inside our meeting room for disaster relief. Red Cross trucks assembled in the parking lot to offer assistance, manage blood donations, symbolize hope. I sported a constant lump in my throat witnessing this swell of human kindness.

I was (and remain) deeply moved by the generosity of our city, and how surrounding cities rallied to lift each other up.

A beacon in a dark time.

Now, several months later, I can’t help wishing we—as a people—remembered how to be that beacon.

Bright and beautiful.

(It sometimes feels like we forget.)

But it’s not too late to try to do better. To be better.

Each of us can put—above all else—kindness first.

Kindness first.

Not just for those we agree with or relate to or recognize. But for everyone.

And when we fall short of the goal, we can straighten our shoulders, take a deep breath, and start over again.

You are welcome here. Valued. Worthy just as you are. 

It sure sounds good, doesn’t it?

Maybe even super-cool.

(A thousand paper cranes hover above the children’s section of the Newbury Park branch. I love it for a thousand reasons.)

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10 thoughts on “Kindness First

  1. Once again you wrote a magnificent story. I don’t know how we can live without our libraries. They are one of the most under appreciated and most needed civic parts of our community. Every two weeks we took my 88 year old mother in law to get audio books because she can no longer read. The library offered to set up a tracking system for her so she didn’t have to remember what books she read in case she had to go there alone; they offered to have someone assist her if we weren’t there; they made sure new books were always available. For Linda and I, we access the library for e-books and download them from home on our e-readers. I see people from all walks of life in our library as you do in yours. So let’s give our libraries and the people who work in them a BIG HIGH FIVE!

  2. Diane

    “The spread of knowledge.” Your words to define your life now and your life as a teacher. I rue the day when we no longer cherish our libraries. The two branches are so lucky to have you.

  3. Bailey Miller

    What a fantastic reminder! Thank you. And those paper cranes are very cool.

  4. I feel so privileged to be your friend. You are a treasure.

  5. Laurel Janssen Byrne

    Bright & beautiful, like you.

  6. Kay Moir

    You truly are a beacon,spreading knowledge,empathy and kindness. The world could learn a lot from you.

  7. I love you, Julie 🙂

    Thank you — we all need more kindness. And super-cool stuff. And more time in libraries. In our lives.

  8. It IS super cool. And so are you, my kind, beautiful friend.

    (Also, BTW, if I haven’t told you lately, I love, love, love your writing so much.)

    xoxo

  9. Thank you for this. It was a reminder of just how beautiful humanity can get in the face of darkness. And libraries are always a harbor and you have a beautiful spirit that, if everyone, or most, shared, the world would always glow.

  10. “Their worthiness exists the minute they arrive.” Love THAT and this whole post. Beautiful.

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