Updated: Oct 8
This Letter to the Editor appeared in the online version of Sippican Week on September 21, 2023,
To the editor:
I’m writing this letter from two points of view: first, as a Rochester Resident for more than 30+ years and a parent of a student in the district. Some days, Rochester makes me so proud to be part of this community. I've seen a blood drive for a sick child, a meal train for a family that suffered hardship, and an outpouring of donated goods when a family experienced a house fire. Even simple acts of kindness, like when someone needs help moving some heavy furniture-residents step up to volunteer. Rochester has, for me, long felt like a place where seemingly good people are happy to just come together for their neighbors.
Then there are days like last Thursday (9/14) at the Library Trustees meeting when I feel embarrassed for this town. Displays like that make me feel bone-deep sadness for my Black son growing up here in an interracial family, living a very different experience than I had growing up here as a white kid in a white family. Representation was never a problem for me; I saw myself on every TV station, in most books, and in the townspeople in leadership positions. I felt very seen and understood.
I feel sad for the Queer kids and families who have to hear the hate being spewed by their neighbors under the guise of religious beliefs and “obscenity” in stories depicting Queer characters having the same experiences straight characters have been having in accessible books for decades without so much as a peep of an objection from anyone. I would like to clarify I support freedom of religion and how it dictates what you do as an individual, the choices you make, and what happens in your home. Religion is a guide to what Godly limits you put on yourself and your own family. But it is not for you to impose upon others. It is not when you would like your religion to control what everyone is allowed to see in or in a library.
I use the Little Free Diverse Libraries (LFDLs) and often grab books to borrow from the Rochester one because I live in town. An interracial family like my family, who has a really hard time finding books about families that look like mine, can go to any of TTAR's LFDLs and find a variety of options. My son can go to any of the LFDLs and easily find a book with a protagonist who looks like him. We can’t say the same of our searches in standard library collections. It is extremely difficult to do so unless you ask the librarian to help, and even then, your choices to peruse options are going to be slim. In the case of Plumb library in particular-even slimmer than most. If you don’t think representation in literature is a problem, I’m guessing it’s because you and your family are well-represented; it’s very easy for you to find books with characters that look like you or families that look like yours. That is what the LFDL’s are about.
On nearly every visit to TTAR's LFDL in Rochester, I have encountered at least one person expressing their gratitude for its presence. I started my volunteer work with TTAR back in 2020 as the parent of a Black son who loved to read and had a really difficult time finding books in the RMS school library and town library he identified with or that depicted families that looked like ours. My son raised thousands of dollars for TTAR by selling veggies from our garden to buy diverse books for the Tri-Town libraries. Since then, through my volunteer work with them, I have been named Vice President of TTAR, so now I would like to speak from the point of view of that role.
TTAR now has three Little Free Diverse Libraries in the Tri-Town, one in each town on public land. These were installed, with no initial resistance and no hidden agenda, to provide easy accessibility to books and stories about people who are underrepresented so people can see themselves in the stories they read. Marion's went up first and Mattapoisett second, and both with such incredible support from the community. The Mattapoisett LFDL did suffer one incident of vandalism, and in response, the Mattapoisett community and surrounding towns rose up, pulled together, and showered TTAR and the LFDL with such an outpouring of support and dozens and dozens of book donations for the Mattapoisett LFDL re-opening after repairs.
The LFDL in Rochester has now (but not initially) been received very differently than the other two LFDLs. During the Rochester LFDL ribbon cutting, there were several Community members who voiced their excitement about the LFDL and the wonderful accessibility to diverse books offered. The event was very well attended - so much so that we reached room capacity and had to turn some people away from the indoor presentation. I received multiple messages of support and thanks for the addition of the LFDL.
At the Library trustees meeting last Thursday, there were some community members who spoke to the trustees during public comment that want the LFDL gone off of town property. A little library that features anti-racist and diverse books highlighting diverse experiences curated by a seasoned librarian is a problem for some of those who attended. When the Rochester LFDL opened, the ribbon-cutting event was well attended, and the families there were really excited about the LFDL AND the little diversity flag that waved from the front of it. The placement of this flag was mentioned in the plans and application for the LFDL submitted to the library and the historic commission prior to installation. No concerns were noted.
I wanted to respond to some themes that came up during public comment at the trustees' meeting. A few people mentioned the redundancy of a little library outside of a library. The collections in our LFDLs are curated by a talented retired local librarian who volunteers her time to volunteer with TTAR to curate the selection of diverse books we offer. On an audit of the Rochester LFDL collection on September 19, there were 40 books available in Rochester's LFDL, and of those 40 books, there are only 3 of them that are in Plumb Library’s collection. If you didn't make the Library Trustees meeting, I encourage you to find copies of the meeting minutes and materials, including the letters from people in response to the LFDL. And read them. There are community members who believe that discrimination and racism are not problems in this town or in this community. They believe that there is no need for organizations like TTAR.
If the Plumb Library trustees meeting proves anything, it’s that there is more of a need for TTAR than ever. And we won’t stop. And we aren’t going anywhere.
Rhonda Baptiste, Rochester