Foreword Reviews - - Contents - by Howard Lovy

Jes­sica Anne Bratt is a branch man­ager at Grand Rapids, Michi­gan, Public Li­brary. She and three other li­brar­i­ans re­cently launched an ini­tia­tive called Li­braries4black­lives, pledg­ing sup­port for the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and host­ing dis­cus­sions on the role li­braries can and should play to ad­dress sys­temic racial in­jus­tice. She launched the twit­ter hash­tag #li­braries4black­lives and is also on the 2019 Coretta Scott King Book Award Jury Com­mit­tee. She is very ac­tive with kids at her lo­cal branch and is mak­ing a name for her­self in na­tional is­sues. Fore­word’s ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor, Howard Lovy, asked Jes­sica about her lo­cal ac­tiv­i­ties and her na­tional ac­tivism.

In gen­eral, li­braries are un­der­funded and li­brar­i­ans are over­worked. Why on earth did you want to be­come a li­brar­ian?

Dorothy Evans was in­spi­ra­tional to my ca­reer tra­jec­tory. She was the li­brar­ian at the South Shore Li­brary in the Chicago Public Li­brary sys­tem. I’ve wanted to be a li­brar­ian since I was a child. My mom would take me to the li­brary all the time, and I would al­ways ask for the same book. I asked my mom how I could sit be­hind the desk and do what the li­brar­ian does, and my mom told me to go ask Dorothy Evans. She told me that I needed a mas­ter’s de­gree—and I didn’t even know what that was at the time, but I knew I would get one and do ex­actly what she did! She was an early men­tor and was in­volved in ALA deeply. She used to give me books signed by au­thors, and one day she took me and her grand­daugh­ter to an ALA lun­cheon, and I got to meet Jac­que­line Wood­son. I knew then that this is ex­actly what I wanted to do for life.

That li­brary was in an area of the Chicago that was ex­tremely un­der­funded. She [Evans] used her con­nec­tions and op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­tro­duce me to the world of li­braries. I was raised in an en­vi­ron­ment where a whole com­mu­nity worked hard to cre­ate some­thing from noth­ing. I have seen my par­ents pour their life’s work into a com­mu­nity that has been seg­re­gated from ev­ery­thing but a li­brary. I grew up want­ing to deepen my ex­plo­ration in how mean­ing­ful the li­brary was to com­mu­ni­ties. When I be­came a li­brar­ian and moved to Michi­gan, I knew that the schools there were tak­ing a big hit con­cern­ing the lack of school li­braries/li­brar­i­ans, and I wanted to pass along the feel­ing, as best I could, that the public li­brary should sup­port the public schools and pro­vide an ex­ten­sion of ser­vices if pos­si­ble.

Li­brary Journal named you a 2016 Mover & Shaker. Tell us what you did to earn that honor, and what it means to you.

It was a com­plete sur­prise and a great honor. I wanted to help deepen the com­mu­nity re­la­tion­ship be­tween the public school and the public li­brary. I re­ally wanted stu­dents to come in and be able to use the li­brary and know it is a warm and wel­com­ing place. You men­tioned that public li­braries are un­der­funded, and school li­braries are op­er­at­ing on a bud­get of noth­ing, or li­braries are not even in­cluded in new build­ing de­signs. I wanted to pro­vide sup­port for public schools in the area to help with aware­ness of how that the li­brary has re­sources and stu­dents should be able to eas­ily ac­cess those re­sources.

Di­gib­ridge was started to help pro­vide ad­di­tional sup­port and ex­ten­sion of li­brary ser­vices to the public school sys­tem. Grand Rapids Public Schools serves nearly seven­teen thou­sand stu­dents with over two thou­sand em­ploy­ees (half be­ing teach­ers). One of our first out­comes of Di­gib­ridge was mak­ing sure we re­moved bar­ri­ers to ac­cess. We in­tro­duced a dig­i­tal li­brary card, which dou­bled as their stu­dent/em­ployee ID that could be used to ac­cess our data­base and on­line re­sources. From there we were able to con­nect with stu­dents, teach­ers, and ad­min­is­tra­tors do­ing re­search data­base train­ing, which fur­ther opened doors to us (in school-li­brary part­ner­ship) that had pre­vi­ously (for years) been shut to us.

In the sum­mer of 2013, I started out with seven­teen kids, black-and-white Nooks, and bat­tery-pow­ered ro­bots, with a small bud­get of $400.

In the sum­mer of 2015, we landed a $20,000 grant from our Li­brary Foun­da­tion. We were able to up­grade to LEGO Mind­storm EV3 ro­bots and Ama­zon Fire 6s. Our camp kept the same at­ten­dees and has held re­ten­tion un­til kids go to high school.

Our de­mo­graph­ics are very di­verse, with kids from many so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds and eth­nic­i­ties. Our first year of camp, we had 39 per­cent His­panic, 28 per­cent African Amer­i­cans, and 50 per­cent male and fe­male. That ra­tio holds strong in that we have an equal num­ber of males and fe­males, and we have seen an in­crease in other eth­nic­i­ties.

You helped found the #Li­braries4black­lives ini­tia­tive. What role can a com­mu­nity li­brary play in cre­at­ing con­di­tions for equal­ity?

Our coun­try put poli­cies and laws in place that helped cre­ate sys­temic racism. The public li­brary is a trusted in­sti­tu­tion and can help to cre­ate and model re­spon­si­ble, re­spon­sive gov­ern­men­tal change. As a pro­fes­sional, in­sti­tu­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity starts with me. I was at a break­ing point with see­ing black pain spread across the news, watch­ing my com­mu­nity suf­fer, and think­ing, What will the lives of my fu­ture chil­dren look like? What could I do to help make the world a bet­ter place for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions? Li­braries have a long his­tory of so­cial ac­tion. If the li­brary is about build­ing com­mu­nity and in­clu­sion then they have to ad­dress racial in­jus­tice.

Li­braries have a role in end­ing racism. Whether it is as sim­ple as ad­dress­ing your own per­sonal bias as a front­line staff mem­ber, or seek­ing to hire and re­tain di­verse tal­ent. I do not want li­braries on the tail end of his­tory. The Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment is an in­ter­ven­tion in a world where black lives are at risk (of po­lice vi­o­lence, health dis­par­i­ties, poor ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, and more). Why wouldn’t we join this na­tional ef­fort to end racism!

Our new Li­brar­ian of Congress is an African-amer­i­can woman. How sig­nif­i­cant is her ap­point­ment to you per­son­ally and to li­braries in gen­eral?

I watched Livestream when Carla Hay­den was sworn in. Ah­h­hhh! It was very ex­cit­ing to wit­ness that mo­ment, be­cause I had goose­bumps when she talked about the his­tory of this na­tion and that it was not that long ago, women were not af­forded great op­por­tu­ni­ties in li­braries and African Amer­i­cans in gen­eral were not al­lowed to use li­braries.

I am per­son­ally happy be­cause it shows com­mu­ni­ties of color the em­pow­er­ing mes­sage that there is a wide range of op­por­tu­ni­ties that you strive for, whether you want to be a pres­i­dent or a li­brar­ian.

What non­li­brar­ian things do you like to do?

I love to bake. My fa­vorite hol­i­day to bake for is def­i­nitely Thanks­giv­ing. I love vin­tage fash­ions, which, ac­cord­ing to my fa­vorite fash­ion blog­ger, Kyra Cran­dol, is any­thing from the 1920s to the present day. I play clas­si­cal pi­ano. And I am a huge nerd. I like to game on my PS3 (Eter­nal Sonata is what I am play­ing now) and on a mo­bile app game I’m play­ing now called Fan­tasy War Tac­tics. I love read­ing comic books and graphic nov­els. I am a huge fan­fic­tion reader and def­i­nitely have made life­long friends based on our love of pop­u­lar fan­doms.

What can a lo­cal li­brary do to con­vince the lo­cal com­mu­nity, and elected of­fi­cials, that it’s still a nec­es­sary part of the com­mu­nity?

There has been a re­cent trend in mov­ing to­ward out­comes-based mea­sure­ments and mak­ing sure our data is mean­ing­ful, es­pe­cially when it goes be­fore elected of­fi­cials. Mak­ing sure that they see the im­pact we are hav­ing in reach­ing our goals. In do­ing so, it has been amaz­ing to see how many li­braries are re­mov­ing ac­cess bar­ri­ers. The li­brary is an amaz­ing re­source and in­for­ma­tion hub, and mak­ing sure peo­ple can have ac­cess to that helps strengthen the com­mu­nity. Pro­vid­ing ways for the com­mu­nity to still have ac­cess to what­ever in­for­ma­tion they de­sire helps show them how in­valu­able the li­brary is. In ad­di­tion, a strong com­mu­nity pres­ence by part­ner­ships or word of mouth helps show elected of­fi­cials the im­por­tance of the li­brary.

When the mur­ders of Phi­lando Castile and Al­ton Ster­ling hap­pened, an affin­ity group within the Cham­ber of Com­merce reached out to the li­brary and asked if the li­brary would be willing to host a race dis­cus­sion. They knew our li­brary had hosted dis­cus­sions be­fore and thought of us first. How awe­some is that!

When a lo­cal li­brary takes an ex­pe­ri­ence out­side the li­brary, whether it is sign­ing up li­brary cards at a school ori­en­ta­tion, hav­ing a book club at a brew­ery, or part­ner­ing with the lo­cal Parks and Recre­ation, you are show­ing that the li­brary is more than just books, DVDS, and mu­sic. Fur­ther­more, in this dig­i­tal age, word-of-mouth does not have to nec­es­sar­ily be an in-per­son con­ver­sa­tion---it can be a pic­ture taken at a li­brary event posted on Instagram, a reader’s ad­vi­sory an­swered on Twit­ter, or a lo­cal news seg­ment.

What’s your fa­vorite li­brary job or ac­tiv­ity?

Do­ing my tod­dler and preschool story times. I love per­form­ing for my pre­read­ing classes. I was a hy­per child grow­ing up and al­ways thought story times at the li­brary were the best! I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber mov­ing and lis­ten­ing to sto­ries. My un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree was in mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion, so it is fun to be able to use that back­ground by play­ing my ukulele while singing.

What are you read­ing now?

Cur­rently, I am read­ing Nail­biter Vol. 1 and Strong Inside: Perry Wal­lace and the Col­li­sion of Race and Sports in the South, by An­drew Maraniss.


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