Following the death of George Floyd and recent protests about racism across the United States, Adam Echelman, director of Libraries Without Borders, and Patrick Weil, president and founder of Libraries Without Borders, wrote this short text on the essential role of access to information and education as a cornerstone of democracy.
“At Libraries Without Borders, we grieve the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and too many others before them.
Confronted with such visceral and tragic reminders of systemic racism in America, we grieve for those whose lives have been cut short due to police brutality and stand in solidarity with those who are fighting against such injustices. We must also think beyond the mere preservation of life. It took a century for the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed that all men are created equal, to be confirmed by the 14th amendment of the Constitution, which affirms the equal protection of the law. Yet our country remains racially divided between those who have and those who have not: those who have their lives and their proclaimed rights protected and respected, and those who do not.
Access to information and knowledge is a human right and a cornerstone of democracy. Libraries Without Borders was founded with the conviction that access to knowledge and information is as critical as the fulfillment of basic needs, including food, health, and shelter. Yet centuries of racism have produced a system where millions of Americans are not able to read, to write, or to practice basic digital skills. They lack access to books, computers, and classes where they can learn necessary life skills. We cannot accept a society where access to information and knowledge depends on the color of one’s skin.
Black lives matter. So does black opportunity, black literacy, black-operated internet, and black-owned technology. LWB’s Wash & Learn program brings technology, internet, and library programs into laundromats in black and brown communities across the United States, from Baltimore, to Oakland, San Antonio to Detroit. We are not alone in this vision and in our work. Public libraries throughout the country curate books, movies, and literacy activities that build community, promote learning, and address white supremacy. Organizations including the Detroit Community Technology Project have piloted innovative models that show us how technology can serve communities of color. Advocates such as the leaders of Family Laundry in Oakland, California, show us how residents can rally for their own safety while promoting education. The list goes on, and so do the challenges.
“We are living through a very dangerous time,” wrote James Baldwin in 1963, just months after the Birmingham church bombing and the assassination of Medgar Evers. But it is through education, he explained, that we will change these conditions. These words ring true today. So let us work together to build a society where access to information and education is not determined by race, ethnicity, or identity. Through our work, we will build a stronger, more inclusive democracy together.
Adam Echelman, Executive Director of Libraries Without Borders
Patrick Weil, Chairman and President of Bibliothèques Sans Frontières”