AFSCME Celebrates National Library Workers Day

All-knowing sources of information. Tour guides to the highways and byways of history. The friendly voice of a morning story time. If that’s all you think of when you think of your library staff, you’d do well to meet some of AFSCME’s library workers, whose reach goes far beyond their libraries’ walls.

Today is National Library Workers Day, when we honor those professionals who keep our libraries running: librarians, technicians and other staff, including custodians, security and maintenance workers.

“Library workers are a diverse group of people who strive to provide excellent service,” says Val Colon, president of the New York Public Library Guild, Local 1930, and vice president of DC 37. “Libraries are no longer just about books, but a whole lot more. Library services are ever-expanding to meet not only the needs of the communities they serve but society as a whole.

The nearly 25,000 library professionals who joined together through AFSCME not only ensure that our libraries remain thriving hubs for learning and community engagement, but that the sharing of knowledge touches all of our neighbors, even those who aren’t able to visit their local libraries.

“Every day, library workers provide a wide range of materials and services so that we can meet our patrons’ needs,” says John Hyslop, president of Queens Library Guild Local 1321 (DC 37) and former archivist for the Archives at Queens Library. “We thrive on helping people with our library services.”  

AFSCME Now takes a look at three examples of how library workers connect with and enrich their communities, often in surprising and remarkable ways.

In Portland, Oregon, members of Local 88 (Council 75) have been involved in Night Strike, a community outreach initiative to help Portland’s homeless population, some of whom gather under the city’s Burnside Bridge.

AFSCME Oregon library workers bring reading materials and other useful handouts, as well as fix account issues, make new library cards and waive fines in certain instances for Portland’s homeless citizens.

According to the American Library Association, homeless patrons “constitute a significant portion of users in many libraries today.” Local 88’s involvement in the Night Strike program helps meet the ALA principle that states, “Access to library and information resources, services, and technologies is essential for all people, especially the economically disadvantaged.”

In Chicago, city library workers have found an equally unlikely but important place to put their talents and skills to use: the local laundromat. Chicago Public Library workers, members of Local 1215 (Council 31), have focused on engaging with families with young children, knowing that the sooner they have a chance to teach the importance of reading to parents, the more likely kids have a shot at succeeding.

It’s called Laundromat Story Time. By connecting with a captive audience of babies, toddlers and children who tag along with the parents for several hours while they do laundry, Chicago’s AFSCME librarians entertain kids while promoting literacy. In fact, it’s a movement that’s catching on across the country.

Meanwhile, Camden County Library in New Jersey, staffed by members of Local 1454 (AFSCME New Jersey), provides free Naloxone training. Naloxone, the generic name for the medication also known as Narcan, can be used to prevent death from opioid overdoses. Because libraries serve often as a front-line community hub, libraries like Camden County are great places to engage community members of a variety of backgrounds, so many of whom experience the opioid crisis firsthand.