Sharon Library grant will fight racism


By Patsy Nicosia

The Sharon Springs Free Library has been awarded a $3,000 national grant it will use to help tackle racism through books and movies beginning in July.
The American Library Association’s Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries funding is a competitive grant intended for small and rural libraries.
Only 300 libraries across the country were awarded funding.
Also participating with the Sharon Springs Library in “Can We Talk?” will be the Community Library in Cobleskill, the Cherry Valley Memorial Library, and high schoolers at Sharon Springs Central School.
“That in itself makes it pretty exciting,” said Helen Thomas, director at the Sharon Library.
“It’s quite a competitive grant intended for small and rural libraries and we’re proud to be one of those chosen for it. Libraries have long been places for important discussions and this is certainly one of them.”
A cornerstone of the project will be a book discussion at the Sharon Library on “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism,” by Robin Diangelo led by Ms. Thomas, college professor Emily Daniels, and Cindy Campbell, a community mediator for more than 25 years who’s also served as board president for the Cherry Valley Library.
The book discussion will also be held on Zoom.
Additionally, a race-themed film series will be held at the Sharon Library Fridays July 2-August 13.
For those who can’t attend in-person, DVDs will be available for home viewing.
And everyone will get free popcorn.
“The popcorn is for fun, but the movies are intended to bring the topic of race to the forefront and hopefully, bring people into the book discussion,” Ms. Thomas said.
Everyone who views the movies will be asked to anonymously fill out a short, reflective questionnaire.
Though Ms. Thomas said the partners are still finalizing a list of the movies, possibilities include “Hidden Figures,” “Harriet,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” and “Remember the Titans.”
Why is any of this important?
In part because banners, posters, bumper stickers, and harassment locally point to blatant racism, Ms. Thomas said, “some is more subtle and some stems from a lack of awareness.
“We are a microcosm of the national divide,” she said. “With three libraries and an enthusiastic high school teacher working together, we hope to encourage our communities to explore the issues and build a better awareness of race and racism.”
Kimberly Zimmer, director at the Community Library, said she also welcomes the chance to encourage conversations and raise awareness on the issues of race and racism.
“The Community Library is developing our next long-range plan and during our focus group discussions there were suggestions for more diverse library programs and for the county libraries to work together,” she said.
“The opportunity to collaborate and offer diverse programming through the use of movies and books is a great way to open conversations around these very complicated and sensitive issues.”
Jennifer Field, a high school English teacher at SSCS, also sees the collaboration as critical, especially in a community where most are white.

“Reading and discussing the topic of race, especially with it being at the forefront of our national news is important,” she said. “Our students aren’t exposed to many different races. Participating in the activities that the library is offering, in addition to the opportunities for discussion in the classroom, is essential.”
Claire Ottman, director at the Cherry Valley Library, said she hopes “Can We Talk” will draw both old and new library patrons.
“Racism is a topic that hits our homes every day,” she said. “I would consider this a success if it changed just one person’s thinking about race. That’s how it starts.”

• • •

Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Communities is an initiative of the American Library Association in collaboration with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries.