The Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced With Adversity
Melanie Townsend Diggs
On April 19, 2015, a week after Baltimore City Police took 25-year old Freddie Gray into custody he was dead. In the days to come, No one would have ever imagined that Gray’s death while in police custody would have sparked protests, demonstrations and civil unrest at the intersection where Gray was arrested in the West Baltimore neighborhood; the very intersection where sits the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch of the city of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library.
On Monday April 27, 2015 Townsend Diggs, an East Baltimore native, was managing the Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt’s Free Library, West Baltimore neighborhood’s Pennsylvania Ave Branch, when an angry and frustrated mob approached the block. According to news accounts, after locking the doors of the library, and counseling patrons and staff, who numbered at least 30 persons, to remain calm, she watched from a window as the pharmacy across the street was being ransacked and parked cars were set ablaze. Townsend Diggs took several steps to safeguard the staff and patrons, including convincing the security staff to change into civilian clothes lest they be confused with the police potentially inciting the mob that was marauding through the neighborhood. Having safely led the patrons and staff out of a side door later that day before closing, Townsend Diggs and Enoch Pratt CEO Carla Hayden contemplated their next move. Should they open the next day or should they close the branch until things calmed down?
Recognizing the vital role that the library plays in the community as a resource and with the Baltimore city schools closed, the police on high alert, and the neighborhood paralyzed, she and Enoch Pratt Free library CEO Carla Hayden boldly declared that the library would be open the next day.