It is with a heavy heart that I share with you today the news that I am moving on from my position as Library Director at Cortland Free Library. There is so much more I had hoped to do, but at the end of the day, this is an act of self care, which Audre Lorde reminds us is not a matter of self indulgence but rather one of self preservation. I am leaving for the sake of my mental health, to maintain my sobriety, and to prioritize my overall well-being.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working to document as much as I can for my successor, and I’ll provide input to the board on next steps as they seek an interim and permanent replacement.

I’m proud of all I’ve achieved since starting this position in January 2020, including navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and its myriad policy fluctuations and unprecedented closures; lowering barriers to access by eliminating overdue fines, ending CFL’s use of a collection agency, and allowing people to obtain limited-access library cards; recommending and implementing a new phone system, a new time management system, and a new e-newsletter platform; launching the Community Reads program; launching our digitization project; designing and launching an updated website; allocating time during the year for staff development; and applying for and receiving various grants, including $10,000 from the American Library Association and $600,000 in construction aid from New York State.

If you’re reading this, you likely already know that public libraries are America’s most (small-d) democratic institutions. We are open to everyone. We are a reflection of our community, its values and its needs. As we find ourselves in the midst of a crisis of need, we have seen an increase in people forced to live their private lives in public, and we have experienced the challenges that brings from all angles.

I’ve done my best during my time here to address needs our community has related to poverty and homelessness: when I saw an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, I made it a priority to figure out who our service providers are, where people can go for help, what’s available when, etc., so that we can better provide that information to others. When Cortland County Mutual Aid was looking for an indoors winter location for their Really Free Market, I offered to host them at the library; this season is our fourth. I also sought and provided “Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness” training for library staff through Niche Academy. I continue to work to educate others while attempting to maintain a welcoming environment at the library. This has proven challenging and more support is needed, including additional library staff to better monitor activity in the building.

I’m grateful to our current library staff more than words can say. Theresa, Tammy, Aimee, Will, Kurt, Kristen, Tim, and Robert: thank you for showing up, for your authenticity and courage, your care and compassion, your patience, your sense of justice, your questions, your callouts, your sense of humor, your generosity, and your vulnerability. I’m truly honored to have worked alongside each and every one of you.

Thank you also to our volunteers, our Friends of the Library, our Board of Trustees, and our patrons.

I’m confident that with the support and guidance of the Finger Lakes Library System, our Board can find a director who will continue to move Cortland Free Library forward in accordance with community needs and New York Library Association and American Library Association values and guidelines.

Thank you, as always, for reading, and as Brenè Brown says: stay awkward, brave, and kind. 💜✊🌈

A Note from the Board of Trustees
The board will promptly seek an interim solution so as to be thoughtful about conducting a search for new leadership. We ask for your patience, understanding, and forbearance, and for your support of our excellent library staff at this difficult time.

Any specific questions can and should be directed to Library Board President, Lauren Mossotti-Kline: boardpresident@cortlandfreelibrary.org.

This letter also appeared in our e-newsletter dated 3/4/2024.

Palaces for the People

Cortland Free Library is chartered to serve the city of Cortland as well as the towns of Cortlandville and Virgil–but like all libraries in the Finger Lakes Library System and beyond, we welcome everyone who comes through our doors.

In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in people experiencing homelessness. This isn’t just here in Cortland; it’s across the country. It makes sense that we see folks experiencing homelessness in the library, because libraries are one of the few places you can spend the day without spending a dollar. Andrew Carnegie called libraries “palaces for the people” for a reason; they are vital to our community’s social infrastructure.

In Guidelines for Library Services to People Experiencing Homelessness, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) says:

Homelessness is a worldwide challenge for millions of people. As central locations for essential resources for all community members, it makes sense for libraries to be part of the caring community that seeks to address and even ameliorate the effects of homelessness and poverty. In addition, libraries can provide education to the housed community members regarding the lives of those who are experiencing homelessness.

Stereotypes, prejudice, and stigmatizing attitudes can create barriers between those who are housed and those who are not, and these negative attitudes can also affect library services, policies, and resources.

“When someone who is experiencing homelessness enters a library, they come from an unstable or unpredictable living situation, where they must live their private life in public,” Julie Ann Winkelstein notes in Libraries and Homelessness: An Action Guide. “If you are housed, think about all the activities you pursue inside your home and imagine being watched and sometimes judged for pursuing them.”

She continues: “Experiencing homelessness…can include not having personal connections that create social capital. Because of these challenges, using a library can mean more than the critical resources provided.”

 

Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness Training + How You Can Help

The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness by Ryan Dowd is an excellent book and training we took here at CFL that helped us learn more about what it’s like to experience homelessness. I’ve recorded a short video (also embedded below) in which I share highlights from the training; I also talk about what the library can and can’t provide for folks experiencing homelessness.

The library provides the opportunity to connect with others; to access information; to use a computer or connect to WiFi; to read; to get help from staff; to use the restrooms and water fountains; to attend programs; the list goes on. (And that’s all for everyone, no matter your housing status.)

Unfortunately, there are also many needs we can’t meet, at least not in our current form: showers, laundry, a safe place to sleep, storage for personal items, after-hours phone charging.

This is where you come in. You can help advocate for a low-barrier, year-round shelter in Cortland (something that does not currently exist outside the warming centers at Grace & Holy Spirit and Salvation Army that are open through New York State’s Code Blue initiative November through April). You can donate to organizations like Loaves & Fishes, CAPCO, and Catholic Charities; volunteer at those places, and at the library; and help educate others about the realities of people experiencing homelessness.

This is a population that is dehumanized more than any other.

It’s my hope that by practicing compassion, open-mindedness, and humility, we can help clear a path towards social wellbeing, unity, and growth for our community.

 

A Note on our Code of Conduct

Last but not least: a reminder that we expect everyone to abide by our board-approved code of conduct while on library premises. Please review the code of conduct here and bring any violations to the attention of library staff. Know that the code of conduct will be courteously and firmly enforced by staff, no matter a patron’s housing status.

This letter also appeared in our e-newsletter dated 1/31/2024.