From the Boston Public Library:
The Boston Public Library today announced the Repairing America initiative, pledging to use its 2021 programming and services to help bridge gaps that divide America. The library is focusing its institutional priorities on finding ways to help Americans become more resilient and able to face and recover from the challenges of today. The theme and priorities of Repairing America will drive key BPL offerings in 2021, ranging from high-profile speaker series and community services to a yearlong reading challenge and several equity related initiatives.The main themes of Repairing America programming include:
- Economic recovery
- Civic engagement and discourse
- COVID-19 recovery
- Racial equity
- Workforce development
- Youth engagement“
As we leave 2020 behind, and head into the year ahead, the library is taking a more integrated approach to key programs and services,” said David Leonard, BPL president. “The 2017 Pew study showed that nearly 80 percent of American adults believe that public libraries are trustworthy and reliable. We hope that patrons will find the Repairing America initiative and resources valuable and a trusted forum for dialogue and perhaps prompts for action. As one of the country’s original truly democratic institutions, we need to both help understand and help bridge the divides in our country regarding recovery, equity, and community.”
Raising Our Voices: Marquee Speakers
To headline the Repairing America programming, the BPL is again partnering with the GBH Forum Network to host a wide range of marquee speakers in the months ahead, sponsored by the Lowell Institute and the Kirstein Business Library & Innovation Center. Speakers include: Alicia Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter; Lindsay Peoples Wagner, Editor in Chief of the Cut and former Editor in Chief of Teen Vogue; Sybrina Fulton, activist and mother of Trayvon Martin; Neha Sangwan, MD, physician and communications expert; Esther Choo, Associate Professor and a founding member of TIME’S UP Healthcare; Nomi Prins, author and political-financial expert; Seema Yasmin, medical journalist and public health physician; Debra Lee, former Chief Executive Officer of BET; and Celine Gounder, MD, ScM, FIDSA, a practicing HIV/infectious diseases specialist and journalist; with additional speakers to be announced in the future.
Together, these speakers capture the essence of Repairing America by exploring the central themes of the initiative, as well as the ways they intersection. For example, Lindsay Peoples Wagner will discuss how the pandemic has impacted the BLM movement and the resiliency of young people, and Esther Choo will talk about racism as a public health crisis.
All speaker events will be free and hosted virtually via Zoom Webinar by the BPL and the GBH Forum Network, and will be moderated by BPL President David Leonard. For more information on the marquee speakers, including dates and session titles, see the full list at the bottom of the release, and visit bpl.org/events.
Becoming An Anti-Racist Institution
In 2020, the BPL enacted its Racial Equity Action Plan, which was unanimously ratified by the Board of Trustees of the Boston Public Library. As a core plan informing the Repairing America initiative, this action plan will also be central to the library’s 2021 initiatives.
Externally, the library is committed to providing inclusive programming and services to patrons of all ages. The library is also reviewing its acquisition practices to ensure the BPL’s collections are developed with an intentional focus on raising the voices of people of color through representation, inclusivity, and diversity. This effort is partially supported by the Boston Public Library Fund, which received an anonymous $75,000 grant to support expanded access to the BPL’s antiracist reading list.
Internally, the BPL plans a number of initiatives looking at equitable recruiting and hiring, analyzing the demographic composition of working teams and departments. To guide and assist with this work, the BPL is working with YW Boston, consultants specialized in leading organizations through change as they focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Listening Closely: Community Conversations
The library has partnered with three organizations: Living Room Conversations, Local Voices Network, and Peer 2 Peer University, to facilitate and foster community conversations around the Repairing America themes.
- Living Room Conversations:A Living Room Conversation is a conversational model developed by dialogue experts to facilitate connection between people despite their differences, and even identify areas of common ground and shared understanding.
- Local Voices Network: The Local Voices Network (LVN) is a unique physical-digital network designed to bring under-represented community voices, perspectives, and stories to the center of a healthier public dialogue. At the center of these conversations is a “digital hearth,” a specialized device that records the discussion as the host guides the group through questions about locally relevant topics.
- Learning Circles(Peer 2 Peer University): Learning Circles are “lightly facilitated” study groups for learners who want to take freely available online courses together. Without a formal teacher in the room, learning circles succeed through peer learning, a practice in which every participant brings their own experiences, shares with one another, and gives feedback.
Empowering Entrepreneurs & Building A Resilient Workforce
Under the workforce development theme, the Kirstein Business Library & Innovation Center (KBLIC) is hosting a Career Skills Building series of events, ranging in topics from interview workshops and online job searches, to avoiding age discrimination and salary negotiation.
In addition to the Career Skills series, KBLIC helps empower entrepreneurs by offering other virtual courses, and has partnered with organizations such as General Assembly to subsidize some of their offerings; and Grow with Google, and the Babson Financial Literacy Project to offer their classes free of charge. KBLIC will also resume its partnership with the Goodwin Neighborhood Initiative to offer small businesses free legal consultations starting in February.
Supporting Our Communities
The BPL is also reaffirming its commitment to providing Community Learning services. In 2021 this will include programs and partnerships such as Career Online High School, an online high school diploma and career certification program; connecting patrons to citywide housing, health, and hunger resources; working with the St. Mark Community Education program to provide ongoing citizenship classes; collaborating with USCIS, the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement, and PAIR Project to provide informational webinars to the immigrant community; partnering with SHINE, MassHealth, and others on health navigation and health insurance workshops; ongoing ESL and literacy courses; and providing tech support via phone and email for patrons who are struggling with the transition to a largely virtual world.
Additionally, the BPL has partnered with the Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School to facilitate free weekly Virtual Drop-In Office Hours. Staff from the Legal Services Center will be available to offer advice and referral information to patrons about civil legal issues including housing law and tenants’ rights, disability rights, LGBTQ+ related concerns, tax issues, and more.
Collecting Community Stories
The BPL recently hired a new Community History & Digitization Specialist, Dory Klein, who works with the Boston Research Center (BRC) at Northeastern University Library, in partnership with the Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections. This new role is focused on developing and supporting projects through which Boston residents can share the underrepresented stories from their community’s past. Currently, Klein’s work centers on community storytelling through oral history.
Two 2021 Community History projects are the Harriet Tubman House Memory Project and the East Boston Memoir Project. The Harriet Tubman House Memory Project aims to collect, preserve, and center the stories and memories of people affiliated with Harriet Tubman House, a much-loved local community space located in the South End. The East Boston Memoir Project, in partnership with the BRC and GrubStreet, is designed to help community elders capture and share their experiences of coming to and making a home in East Boston.
The BPL recently announced Reading Together, a yearlong reading challenge for the year 2021. Reading Together challenges BPL patrons to read a book each month that falls under a suggested theme. The themes were chosen to broaden perspectives, encouraging patrons to read books that connect to the Repairing America pillars.
One of the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that at a time when Bostonians need each other more than ever, communities are unable to gather in person to share experiences and support one another. In 2021, the BPL’s Reading Together yearlong challenge strives to give Boston’s community of readers an opportunity to read diversely, recommend books to each other, and discuss their reading together. To learn more about the Reading Together yearlong challenge, visit bpl.org/yearlong.
- The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart
- Garza is the co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter and the Black Lives Matter Global Network, and Founder of the Black Futures Lab.
- The Pandemic & Black Lives Matter: How Young People Are Building A New Normal
- Peoples Wagner is the Editor in Chief of The Cut and former Editor in Chief of Teen Vogue. She is the only Black female editor in chief in the United States and a 2020 Forbes 30 under 30 honoree.
- We Are All Trayvon
- Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin, and is dedicating her life to transforming family tragedy into social change.
- How to Use the Disruptive Energy of a Pandemic to Make Your Business Thrive
- Dr. Sangwan is a physician, communication expert, and author. She connects the dots between health and leadership performance.
- Racism as a Public Health Crisis
- Choo is an Associate Professor in the Center for Policy and Research in Emergency Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University and Founding Member for TIME’S UP Healthcare.
- Central Bank Collusion & the Financial Crisis: A Decade Later
- Prins is a distinguished political-financial expert, journalist, and award-winning author.
- Inside the Outbreaks
- Yasmin is an Emmy Award-winning medical journalist, public health physician, professor, and author.
- Embracing Change & Triumphing Over Disruption
- Lee is the former Chief Executive Officer of BET, and led the network to become the largest global company dedicated to African-American programming.
- COVID and Where Do We Go from Here?
- Dr. Gounder is a practicing HIV/infectious diseases specialist, epidemiologist, journalist, filmmaker, and storyteller. She is the CEO/President/Founder of Just Human Productions, a non-profit multimedia organization, and is a member of President-Elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory team.