Letters from the Road - Day 3

Holding Space - Leveraging Place to Engage Community

Hello from Nashville,

Today I had the honor of speaking with Nashville Public Library Director Kent Oliver and the library’s Civil Rights and Votes for Women Rooms Director Andrea Blackman.

This was an opportunity to continue a face-to-face conversation that we began pre-pandemic regarding how libraries bring communities together to learn about the past, confront the present, and envision a better future. I appreciated the hospitality I encountered, so much that it was very difficult to leave.

The energy of Nashville, the warmth of its library workers, and the invaluable contributions they make day in and day out should be commended. I have such a connection and profound respect for the work the library does to provide a welcoming platform to address the societal challenges and concerns that we are all are currently facing.

This stop provided an excellent opportunity to highlight how library programs can serve as muses for difficult conversations that foster social change.

For example, more than 17 years in the making, the Nashville Public Library Civil Rights Room has served as a center for engagement and community dialogue. Exhibited materials capture the drama of a time when thousands of African American citizens in Nashville sparked a nonviolent challenge to racial segregation in the city and across the South.

The space provides the City of Nashville a safe and welcoming space where the community can come and honor the history of the Civil Rights Movement and its legacy. It also creates opportunities for dialogue and to explore our own personal responsibility as we continue the legacy of local and national Civil Rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Diane Nash, and Marion Barry.

Nashville Public Library’s efforts to serve as a conduit for community conversations will be enhanced with the opening of the Votes for Women Room in August. Like many of the other educational and inspirational resources the library offers, the room will commemorate another movement of historical significance and contemporary relevance – The Women’s Suffrage Movement.

During today’s conversation I got a sneak peek at the soon-to-be unveiled Votes for Women Room. The timing of the unveiling is right in step with the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The room is amazing and chronicles Tennessee's role in the ratification of 19th amendment and everything that happened within the city of Nashville. Visitors will have access to educational tools to assist them in exploring how this movement and other local and national histories have had an impact on voting rights, the empowerment of the women, disenfranchised voters, and red lining.

Nashville Public Library has established partnerships with local schools and universities. The library employs several educators who work with local teachers and school libraries to assist with the development of Woman’s Suffrage curriculum. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, ALA has partnered with the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission and is currently distributing more than 6,000 women’s suffrage youth book sets to libraries across the country. Each set consists of three books corresponding to different reading levels: "Around America to Win the Vote" by Mara Rockliff for elementary readers; "The Woman's Hour: Our Fight for the Right to Vote" by Elaine Weiss for middle schoolers; and the "National Park Service Women's Suffrage Reader," an anthology of essays for high school readers. Every public and school library in Nashville will receive a set, as well as diverse book recommendations, program, and display ideas.

I am looking forward to supporting Nashville Public Library educators and school librarians, as we work to get books into the hands Nashville’s young readers, and to commemorating the diverse suffragists on whose shoulders we stand on today.

The Nashville Public Library does a magnificent job honoring the voices of the past, but also works to give every community member a voice. In early July, the library launched its “I Ring the Bell” social media campaign. When the 19th Amendment was ratified, cities across the country rang bells in celebration. Unfortunately, Nashville did not. The library is challenging this historic silence and asking community members to submit posts under the hashtag #IRingTheBell that highlights a cause they care about. The library hopes that this act of community and solidarity will spark a conversation about how far we have come and how far we must go when it comes to civil and human rights. I will ring a bell, too.

This was my fourth stop on an exciting 12-stop virtual tour, Holding Space: A national conversation series with libraries. My goal is to spotlight how libraries of all kinds across the country are addressing the needs of their diverse communities and engaging stakeholders to advocate for libraries.

To learn more about the library communities’ efforts to support diversity and inclusion please visit ALA’s Libraries Respond page.

Also, it is not too late to join us for future dynamic discussions. Visit the Holding Space website to register or follow #ALAHoldingSpace for tour updates.