BRATTLEBORO — In the 19th and early 20th century, the settlement house movement in urban areas sought to bridge the gap between social classes. In these programs, middle-class community members offered their skills and abilities to provide child care, education for children and adults, health care, and cultural and recreational activities for their low-income neighbors and for immigrant families.
According to the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, "These houses served as gathering places for fostering relationships that would serve as the foundation for stronger, healthier communities [...].Their advocacy efforts also contributed to progressive legislation on housing, child labor, work conditions, and health and sanitation."
In the present day, public libraries in many communities have by default stepped up to fill that role.
As Joyce Marcel's outstanding article states, libraries are one of the few safe and welcoming public spaces available to the increasing numbers of unhoused people created by the shamefully unequal distribution of wealth in our society.
This has created a tremendous burden for libraries, which are woefully underfunded because of the common misperception that they are less relevant in the digital era.
As our extraordinary library director, Starr LaTronica, states in the article, some larger municipalities have begun to hire specially trained social workers to help in providing these desperately needed services.
In our own small community, this very difficult work falls to our remarkable staff, who patiently and compassionately manage extremely challenging needs on top of their traditional library duties, for which they already lack adequate space and personnel.
Brattleboro is blessed to have as its library director Starr, who is a model not only for her staff, but for our whole community, in consistently and calmly offering respect, dignity, and empathy in supporting these neighbors.
In addition, our library has offered a warm welcome and valuable programs to help integrate our many new Americans who have sought refuge from persecution and desperation in their countries of origin. The extent to which this work benefits all of us in building a stronger community is immeasurable.
Our gratitude goes to Joyce for her outstanding reportage, and to The Commons for bringing to light a level of need and the heroic efforts to address it, of which many in the community may be unaware.
I hope this article will inspire readers to investigate ways they can support Brooks Memorial Library in all of its essential work.
This piece was submitted to The Commons.