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Reimagining the Public Library to Reconnect the Community | Shamichael Hallman | TEDxMemphis

[Music]

some of my fondest memories as a child

involved Public Library's as a

introverted highly sensitive kid

libraries were a safe space sanctuary in

libraries I could always find a

welcoming librarian who would help me

find a great book or appointment to the

right and reference material so I could

finish a report they also pointed me to

some really really great resources one

of the first books that I begin to love

as a child was a children's novel called

encyclopedia brown which told the

exploits of a young boy detective and I

think one of the reasons why the book

fascinated me so much because it was the

first time I'd ever met or why I got

named Leroy

beliebers were such such cool places

right I mean there were those access to

computers there was access to other

technology there were lots of clubs and

things that I could take a part of and

one of the amazing things were all the

programs that were offered after schools

on the weekends things around arts

things around science things around math

these programs provided a really

valuable opportunity for me to meet

people that I might otherwise never meet

and through these interactions I could

understand that the people who were a

part of these programs that we had a lot

of things in common that we had a lot of

the same interests in common I think

that's one of the powers of public

spaces that it gives us the ability to

interact and meet people that we might

not meet it's been long understood that

social cohesion develops through

repeated interactions through shared

experiences with each other the way in

which we learn about each other the way

in which we know about each other the

way that we feel about each other it's

often shaped by the experiences that we

have together fry quite quickly though

what we discover and what we see is that

these interactions are not happening we

are in fact isolating ourselves

separating ourselves along almost every

category and I believe that it's time to

change that and I believe that social

public spaces are our parks our

libraries our community centers have a

tremendous ability to do that this work

is deeply important to me one of the

reasons why is this there are some

moments that that define you some

moments that just shape you the things

that you just never forget one of those

moments came from me in the spring of

2019 I got to have a conversation with a

woman named grace grace and the spring

of 1960 took a kind of a fateful trip to

a library with a few friends and some

college classmates story goes and the

reports show that when grace and her

friends got to this library they were

not rude they were not rowdy that they

they entered the library quite calm

we just looking to be served however

merely upon entering the library the

librarians there informed them of the

segregation laws and call the police

within a few months of the police being

called Grayson her friends were arrested

and placed in jail a reporter came by

the next day enacted a librarian why she

had called the police on Grayson her

friends and the librarians responsible

was not that they were rude or loud or

obnoxious but the reason why the police

were called was because grace and her

friends were Negros wonder if we might

sit with that for a minute

I'm in awe of that conversation because

57 years later I became the manager of

the branch in which that happened and I

remember looking miss grace in the eyes

and saying miss grace if it had not been

for what you did as an 18 year old

college student I now as a black man

couldn't manage this branch and I made a

commitment to grace I made I made a pact

with Miss grace that as long as I was

serving as the manager of that space

that we would do everything that we

could to make that space as inclusive as

possible and here's how we're gonna do

it when you think about the word library

what word immediately comes to mind

I took an unofficial poll while I was

doing an outreach event and so really

interesting answers came right some

people said technology

some people said computers most people

said books

I think that's what most of us would say

right but for the purpose of this talk

I'd like for us to exchange the word

books for another word oh so I have

nothing against books I there are

probably a hundred books in my house

right now that every time I walk in the

door they look at me saying read me read

me read me for the purpose of this

conversation I wonder if we might change

the word books for the word bridge there

are two bridges in the city that gets

you across the mighty Mississippi and

into the state of Arkansas one of those

bridges the Harahan bridge has a couple

of spaces for cars couple spaces for

trains and then one space for for

pedestrian and if you've never walked

across that great for that big river

crossing I would highly encourage you to

do so it's a wonderful trip to make but

each year thousands of people by foot by

bike by scooter take the trip across the

Mississippi into Arkansas and it takes

them that they're able to see places and

things that they otherwise never would

see and that's the beauty of bridges

I believe our public spaces in our parks

libraries our community centers have the

opportunity to serve as a bridge to

introduce us to people that we might not

otherwise see in the spring of 2017

I assume the managing role of kostet

libraries historic libraries the city's

first library so much history is in this

library and we began to think about what

it would take to reimagine this historic

branch much of this work is rooted in a

national initiative called reimagine the

civic Commons which is a national

project happening in many cities across

the country that is focused on public

spaces that's the heart we're asking

ourselves how might we look differently

at public

faces in the way that we design them in

the way that we manage them in the way

that we program them in the way that we

maintain them and some fascinating data

is popping up all across the country

I spent some of these years

traveling to different cities and trying

to try to just learn as much as I can

about libraries how they function how

they operate and what I'm discovering is

that is that the story is it's kind of

the same no matter where you are whether

it's Seattle or San Francisco

whether it's Chicago or Detroit whether

it's Philadelphia or Akron or even in

Africa where I've been able to see

libraries and khempal in Nairobi the

question is the same that the issue is

the same that the libraries are

realizing that they must make some

pivots now there are all types of people

who come in libraries people who come in

to use the computer there are people who

are coming to get out of the elements

there are people who are coming to for a

story time program with their child and

the library must take and continue to to

meet those needs but the library should

also begin to thinking about other ways

that we can meet new needs that our

community has and I believe one of those

most pressing needs is to provide a

space where people from all walks of

life incomes ethnicities can have a

place to gather we're doing this work

now at Causton library thanks to the

reimagine of civic commons grant but

thanks to some state and local grants

we're doing this as a team so it's not

just myself we've got architects and

designers we've got city employees we've

got great volunteers who are downtown

we're kind of collaborative doing this

and here's how this is gonna play out so

I'm just kind of just kind of imagine

when we walk with me wait we expected to

oaktree open this branch in October of

this year here's a little bit of what

you'll see as you walk down to 33 South

Front Street you will

mainly notice that there are a variety

of trees that offer a lot of shade you

will see various colorful plantings that

invite you into the courtyard upon

walking into the court you are you going

to see a variety of comfortable seating

that is accessible to people of all ages

and mobilities to the left you'll see a

great piece of public art that will be a

show it so a nice a Mockingbird coming

out of the ground to the left of that

you'll see a wonderful green space work

we'll have a variety of outdoor

activities yo good Tai Chi outdoor

readings and it'll be a wonderful place

just for you to hang out on a Saturday

afternoon upon walking in the inside as

you look as you look to the right you'll

see a cafe space yeah well you're

putting a cafe in a library what about

that that'll serve a variety of fresh

seasonal food I from there if you look

to the left you'll see a vibrant

children's space filled with all types

of books that we'll use to engage

children and not just that

then what there's also going to be a

study rooms private meeting spaces for

you to be able to do your work and your

study and your gathering and we're doing

that because of this there's a tradition

kind of in the libraries that when you

walk into the library we want to shatter

that we want that the moment you walk

into the library and it's a welcoming

space and that when you see somebody you

haven't seen in a while a neighbor a

friend a co-worker and it's okay to talk

to them as you walk up on the second

floor there's going to be a variety of

things that you're going to see so

they're right you're gonna see a

performing arts space a flexible

multi-use space that we'll be able to do

dance classes and in acting classes film

screenings corporate gatherings places

for you and your business or your

company to meet and not just that we're

gonna have a co-working space because

co-working is is big in our economy but

we recognize that everyone doesn't have

access to that and so we're going to

have a space that has lockable storage

of this space that has equipment

you to be able to get your business or

your creative endeavor off the ground

and not just that we're gonna also add

recording spaces to recording spaces one

audio side one video side are you

aspiring home musicians we got a space

for you come and record your project

with us can I produce your next creative

work with us because here's the thing

all of the equipment that you need the

laptops the cameras the camcorders the

microphones the mixers we'll have it all

your library card gets you there all of

this creates the space all of this

creates of space of a vibrant community

space a vibrant technology space a

vibrant cultural space where we will be

able to celebrate all that we are and I

hope that you will join us and this is

everything that I have told you thus far

it involves you consuming all the

wonderful things that we have but I

believe if this is going to actually

work the way I think it can work it's

going to require two things of you the

first thing is that it will acts of you

to contribute just as much as you

consume so libraries are very kind of

consumer restaurant we go we get our

books we leave we go we go to the

program relief we go we used to cook but

we used to computer we leave but I'm

asking you to contribute to the fabric

of the of the library and that may look

like you just bringing a friend when you

come to the program that might be you

arriving a few minutes early to help set

up or break down that might be you call

the library say hey I have us gift I

have a skill I play the guitar I know

how to code I know how to do taxes I

know how to say it business gives up and

I would love to maybe once a month help

the community what's the skill that I

have see when we do that we're onto

something the second thing that is going

to require I think this is the most

important thing

is for you to offer below me instead of

other here's the thing that we've

learned if there's nothing else that

we've learned from Casa the history of

Casa is the danger that happens when one

people group decides that another people

group is not worthy of a public space

and so what I would ask of you when you

walk in this library and you see people

who think a little bit different than

you and you see people who have a

different religious belief than you and

you see people who have a different

sexual orientation than you and you see

people who who have who have a different

worldview than you that you would not

other them but you would invite them

into a beautiful community what we all

can gather we all can share what we all

can learn listen y'all we're doing some

special in downtown Memphis with this

library it is a model for the nation to

see and I and I think what I'm most

excited about is not that I'm leaving it

but that us together are gonna make it

special thank you so much

[Applause]