Our goal is to conduct a community conversation in all ALA conference cities, adopting an issue that is specifically challenging for that community. – Barbara Jones, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.
This year’s ALA conference will take place later this month in Chicago. It could be said that one issue challenging for this community is gun violence. A recent CNN article reported that homicides are on the decline nationally, but not in Chicago. Last year, a publication from Chicago Northwestern University reported that the city has one of the highest youth crime rates in the country. After many weekends, stories involving youth violence make Chicago Tribune headlines.
What if anything, does this mean for libraries? Chances are that many librarians (and not just those in Chicago) work with and develop relationships with teens that might be from neighborhoods with persistent gun-related crime. At this year’s Annual Conference in Chicago, a community conversation about gun violence, include young people that have been affected will take place on Friday, June 28.
To find out more about this scheduled ALA session, I invited Barbara Jones, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom who wrote an article in the May issue of American Libraries magazine, on Gun Violence, Videogames, and Libraries to answer a few questions. Felicia Shakespeare, a presenter for the program, and the Library Media Specialist for Betsy Ross/Oneida Cockrell PreK-8 School in Chicago, also gave some context for this program that promises to be a ‘call to action’.
KC: What prompted the proposal for annual conference for Gun Violence: Community Voices and Library Responses?
Barbara: ALA has been collaborating with the Kettering Foundation for many years, and, through a grant, ALA President Maureen Sullivan has brought ALA staff and members together to do training with Richard Harwood from the Harwood Institute on civic engagement. In January a group of us who were trained, got together at dinner and promised ourselves we would put our training to work. And the gun violence program is the result!
Felicia: Based on the focus of the City of Chicago and the high number of gun related deaths in the city. In many instances the library is the heart and highlight of most urban communities.
KC: Can you give a brief overview of how you feel gun violence is affecting youth in Chicago?
Felicia: As a educator in Chicago, I can tell you that as these topics arise over and over, my students are becoming “used to” hearing about guns and gun related tragedies in their neighborhood where I specifically teach. Depending on the side of town the youth are from, they may or may not be faced with this daily issue. The problems with guns seem to be most prevalent (although not always limited to) poorer areas with a higher minority population, typically black or Latina.
KC: Can you give us a preview of the session format?
Barbara: Father Michael Pfleger of the St. Sabina Faith Community in Chicago will open. Then there will be a panel including parents affected by gun violence; students; librarians; social scientists, politicians; and civil libertarians. Then we will break out at tables to come up with an ACTION PLAN for what LIBRARIES CAN DO to address this issue.
KC: Is it your sense that Librarians in the field are already doing a lot of work around helping address violence in their communities?
Barbara: Yes, I think that libraries are doing a lot of work around violence in their communities. We know of dozens of programs around the country. What we dream of, is gathering all these good ideas, and writing a grant to replicate these ideas nationwide.
KC: What role, if any do Libraries/Librarians have in addressing issues around gun violence?
Felicia: Libraries at large, whether school or public are a true safe haven for today’s youth. When we have our doors open, less children are on the streets during what can be considered some of the most critically dangerous hours of the day. We are providing options for them.
Barbara: I think librarians and libraries have a role in addressing local issues, whether they are gun violence or another issue. Libraries are trusted public institutions in their communities. We should take advantage of that trust and use our libraries for discussions of issues, including all sides. That means the NRA position as well as the other positions! Also, libraries can provide information on all sides of this issue, and assist the community in doing research to help make public policy for those communities. In other words, democracy in action!
KC: Are there any common misconceptions about gun violence and youth and if so, can you address some of those factors?
Felicia: One misconception may be that these youth accept this way of living. I believe that having to be subject to this environment is not something of most of their choosing but is forced on them due to limited controls (ie limitations in income and resources). Many of the children come from homes with loved ones who care. I do believe many of the youth have hope that they will be able to better themselves especially when “we” (educators, parents, and the community) begin to spotlight the important role education will play in their future. Many are just coping with the living situation in which they’ve been dealt more than anything else.
KC: If participants don’t live in an area that is plagued by gun violence, would you still recommend they attend this session and why?
Felicia: I believe this session would benefit anyone who has a desire to work with urban youth now or in the future. Also, participants will have the folks who actually are in the trenches on the panel, real lives, real stories.
KC: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Felicia: It’s important that this issue is not minimized as too many young people are being loss senselessly in this country. If we don’t keep shining the light for change, who will?
Barbara: If YALSA blog readers have recommended book titles or Web site suggestions related to gun violence topics, please share as handouts for the session are developed: firstname.lastname@example.org
KC: Session information: The Friday Conversation: Gun Violence-Community Voices and Library Responses will take place on Friday, June 28, 1p-3:30p in the Convention Center, Room S105a-c.