Hate. Love. Racism. Equality. Fear. Human Rights. Sexism. Peace. Xenophobia. Unity.

These words are everywhere lately and whether spoken or read, they elicit a strong emotional response from all of us. Words are some of the strongest communication tools we use. Words can build or destroy. They can hurt or heal. Words can become a weapon or an olive branch. A bullet or a healing salve. As selectors of our own words, we are responsible and must be held accountable for the words we choose.

My profession is built on words. I read a lot of words and I like to talk even more. Lately, however, I’ve been doing a lot of listening to what you, our library patrons, have to say. Our conversations have been heartbreaking, honest and vulnerable. As a parent, business owner, visiting student or faculty, I thank you for sharing with me that Neill Public Library is your identified safe space within this community. You feel welcome and respected here. You feel safe to be who you are without fear of judgment, persecution, or retaliation. You find staff helpful, friendly and kind, delivering the right balance of care and attention to you and to everyone.

In your words, “The library doesn’t care what I believe in, who I love, or how much money I make. Here, everyone has the same rights and everyone receives the same service.” Yet another reason why having a vibrant responsive public library is essential to its community. Especially these days.

I am humbled by your words. Humbled and grateful to be a part of something so positive and important for our community. I am exceedingly proud to be part of a staff team that works hard to ensure their actions reflect the library’s core service values of providing an open environment without judgement and with access for all.

Open. Without judgement. Access for all. Public libraries take this charge very seriously. We intentionally foster a wide diversity of ideas, information, stories and opinions. We believe a well-informed citizenry is a cornerstone of democracy, so we create opportunities for you to gain knowledge and engage in peaceful deliberative conversation. We purposefully build collections and offer programs that reflect the broad interests of our shared community. Our policies and practices are rooted in defense of your civil liberties and protect your right to choose to use, or not use, the resources we offer. The result is a word-filled environment that is dynamic and respectful and feels safe, inclusive and welcoming.

This same environment is not limited to libraries. Imagine how much better our world could be if we each chose love over hate, knowledge over assumption, compassion over judgment. It starts with the words we choose.

Joanna Bailey is the director of Neill Public Library and the interim chair of the Pullman Arts Commission.

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