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Librarians take stand against anti-vax protestors

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Librarians take stand against anti-vax protestors
Librarian Laura Foner addresses a crowd in front of the Copley branch of the Boston Public Library. AVERY BLEICHFELD PHOTO

Following demonstrations protesting mask requirements that occurred at Boston Public Library locations, BPL staff and members of the Boston Public Library Professional Staff Association (BPLPSA) — the union that represents library workers — are calling out what they call incidents of disruption and hate.

The first protest against mask rules took place at the central Copley branch of the library on Feb. 5, where a group of protesters with children entered the children’s room without masks. The second protest occurred at the Hyde Park branch on Feb. 10.

In a separate incident, someone allegedly poured gasoline over a bust of Maya Angelou, housed in the central branch of the library.

At an event Saturday to respond to the incidents, which the BPLPSA called a “unity gathering,” Maty Cropley, president of the union, said these actions come on the tail of two years of pandemic operations that have caused difficulties for library staff.

“The past two pandemic years have been incredibly challenging for library staff,” Cropley said, from the steps of the central branch. “Even still, we’ve managed to bring a lot of really wonderful services and spaces to the people of Boston in all the neighborhoods where we have branches.”

Cropley said a large part of a library worker’s job is to build community connections. During the pandemic, this has meant building and maintaining library spaces that are safe, through measures like mask requirements.

“Our workplace is often the same library space used by our patrons, the majority of whom work with us and understand public health measures like masking protect the most vulnerable among us,” Cropley said. “We protect the public spaces we all rely on, like the library, so that they can best empower us to meet our needs, whether they be personal enrichment, exploration, entertainment or education.”

Allison Hahn, a children’s librarian at BPL’s Brighton branch, said at the event that librarians have made sacrifices to continue ensuring that patrons stay safe. For instance, Hahn said she hasn’t met the two-year-old child of a cousin because she’s worried about bringing the virus back to the kids she works with at the library.

Demonstrators gather in Copley Square. PHOTO: AVERY BLEICHFELD

“People coming into our libraries and refusing to follow the rules minimizes all of the sacrifices that my colleagues have made,” Hahn said. “People coming into the libraries without masks put my colleagues, my kids and their families, my friends at risk.”

She compared wearing a mask to the other requirements patrons must follow when they want to use library spaces.

“Like shirts, like shoes, if you want service you need to be wearing a mask,” Hahn said.

Laura Foner, who used to work as a BPL children’s librarian, said at the event that the protests hurt her because they challenged her expectations for what a library can be.

“It hurts my heart because of what I think of as a library, as a safe place to be, as a refuge, as a place where people can come and participate responsibly in using the library services,” Foner said.

She said she worries that the behavior is not isolated, tying it to protests outside of Mayor Michelle Wu’s house opposing the city’s vaccine mandate. Foner said she thinks the protests at BPL branches are part of an organized effort to sow discord and disruption.

“I just want to ask every single person here to say, ‘No, we will not tolerate these things in the city of Boston,’” Foner said.

Also attending Saturday’s unity event were at-large City Councilors Ruthzee Louijeune and Erin Murphy, who spoke in support of city workers and library safety.

Louijeune said libraries hold an important place in the city as a resource for everybody.

“Our libraries are a public good and we have to make sure we stand by them,” Louijeune said. “It’s one of the few places that don’t care how much money you have in the bank; it’s open to all.”

Cropley said that, with their role in their community, it’s up to library supporters and staff to keep the spaces safe.

“When we are met with challenges that threaten to denigrate our public spaces, we rise up to meet them,” Cropley said. “Today we rise up to meet them together, with positivity and in solidarity with our friends and colleagues who are out here on the steps.”