You Know This Isn’t Normal

I am who I am because of a little branch of our public library, at the corner of Bridge and Watertown Streets.

It was there that I fell in love, for a lifetime, with reading.  And books. Myriad magazines. Out of town newspapers on long wooden stick hangers.

The library was walking distance from home and school, and later, not far from my first job.

When I got old enough to drive, I started going to the main branch, further away. But that little library branch was the start of everything for me.

Multiply that by how many little libraries in how many American towns, how many boys and girls, over how many generations, and you realize how many stories—literally and figuratively—started at the local library.

Our stories. America’s story.

Which is why Antioch, CA makes me sad, and furious.

Antioch (I had to look it up, something I might have once done at a library…) is a city between Stockton and Berkeley. A couple of days ago, a librarian took the extraordinary step of abruptly closing the library, due to “dangerous conditions” for staff and patrons.

And what, you might ask, was happening?

Well, what wasn’t?

Fires set, drug use, sexual intercourse in full view and physical, written and verbal threats. Pools of blood in the bathroom. Unconscious addicts.  Two dozen calls to police in two months.

More: car jackings and break-ins. A burning mattress in the parking lot. A person with mucus streaming from his nose and white powder on his face, shaking and screaming.

Now, there is a plan to reopen the library. With armed guards and “more security cameras”.

If things are this bad at the library, what does that tell us about the collapse of the community that surrounds it? About what has been lost, broken and surrendered.

A library spokeswoman quoted in a local article said things like this were happening to libraries everywhere. Imagine Oakland? Or S.F.?

How many children won’t be brought to, or allowed to go to, the library? And may never go?

Stories interrupted.

Stories that never start.

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