Prisoner of Hope: Notes from a Would-be Library Innovator

by Tracie Hall

Since my childhood there has always been an impalpable but very real tether binding me to libraries. Though I read often and widely as a child, it was not so much the books, but the physical space that libraries offered—a Bermuda Triangle for the mind of sorts, where readers could unapologetically get swept up in stories and daydreams—that compelled me. I remember my grandmother and I making weekly pilgrimages to the public library. The rows and rows of volumes seemed infinite and in my frustration with the improbability of ever being able to read them all, I would sometimes walk along the shelves lightly toughing the spine of each book as if comprehension could occur simply through osmosis. Every week I read a book that made me want to be something different when I grew up, one week a detective, the next week a fashion designer. In the library I could read about and try on so many lives. The library offered a space for dreaming and for learning how to make those dreams come true.  In the midst of a south Los Angeles neighborhood that had been seemingly politically and economically abandoned after the riots of the late 1960’s, the library offered hope against a backdrop of vacant lots and scorched shells of buildings that served as evidence of the outgrowth of hopelessness.

That I would eventually pursue a career in librarianship is neither accidental nor a surprise. Having worked in libraries in communities on both coasts, and having visited as a consultant, libraries across the nation; I am still amazed at the social capital that public-focused, mission-driven libraries can leverage in their communities. I have seen libraries that nurtured small businesses by providing sole-proprietors and family-owned businesses with the human and information resources necessary to identify and implement new ideas. I have witnessed whole neighborhoods become invested in and reinvigorated by libraries that worked with community members and stakeholders to offer relevant programming that reflected real need and highlighted existing assets. On the other hand I have also seen libraries that failed to connect with their communities and in missing that critical connection lost both public support and resonance.

I come to this institute because as someone who believes and is invested in libraries and their potential impact on the communities they serve, I want and need to expand my bag of tricks, as it were, as both a library and information science practitioner and now, as educator and administrator. Few callings are as noble as public service. If I can learn how to innovate in my role as a librarian, the time I spend here will have a personal and an exponential impact.