This was a quaint, quiet branch. It wasn’t very busy, but that might be because it was raining. Actually, I arrived right as the rain started. This older gentleman was leaving just as I sat down—he came back in about 3 minutes because of the hail. I asked him what it was like outside, he said “little bitty pieces, that’s what turned me around.” The chatty employees asked how far he got, which was about half a block. The chatty employees, actually it was just one chatty employee. The other one didn’t really seem to interested in any of the her conversations.
To give a little bit about the demographics, there was a Chinese employee at the front desk, a white employee who seemed to be at a resource desk, and a Black employee at the technology desk. The white employee was the chatty one. The Black employee seemed less than amused at the overall comments and tone, though she did try to keep up some conversation. For example, the first employee said “The Chinese kids don’t want to do crafts. They are studious. Actually, I take that back. It isn’t that they want to, it’s that their parents want them to be studying or reading.” To which the other, seemingly trying to get out of the conversation, replied “Yeah, that’s true.” But the first one just kept on going “The hispanic kids are the same.” So, I don’t really know, but it sounds to me like these “arts and crafts” are probably a little boring. They continued to talk about different programs and getting “numbers” in the library to justify the funds.
You learn a lot by eavesdropping. For example, the hierarchy in CPL is quite fascinating. The first employee kept on talking about promotions and moving up in the system. Apparently, in the suburbs people make a lot of lateral moves to different libraries because there is little opportunity to move up. She went on to recount her own experiences in the city and trying to find ways to move to better positions. Apparently she started at the Logan Square Branch years ago. She retold how she was asked in her interview “What would you do if you were here and a fight between a student and teacher broke out during a read aloud?” She was quick to defend the branch by saying that the managers seemed to act like it was a zoo, but it wasn’t anything like that. In fact, she said, there were no problems—except with boys and girls being too “fresh” with each other on the “Karma Sutra Chairs.” Eventually those chairs were moved out of the teen section though.
These two also talked about the security guards. Ok, remember, it was really only one employee doing all the talking, but still. She apparently really liked the current security guard because she was nice and not weird. The problem was that today there was some random security guard teaching another security guard the ropes. Neither had been here before. Also, the janitor’s locker kept popping open, which caused some internal conflict about stuff possibly getting stolen. I guess I never realized how many problems exist in the library. It’s just like any other job!
Listening to the employees was very fascinating. The most interesting conversation occurred around the book ordering decisions. That first employee said:
“The interesting thing about this library is that the people that come here are African Americans, but the people checking out books are Asians. And she (orderer) keeps buying African American books, but they aren’t circulating well. We don’t need three copies when they aren’t circulating. We need some for good balance for sure, but some of the African American books are just creepy! Their pictures are creepy.”
Now, this was a very interesting comment, actually. When you enter into the library, there is a whole rack of African American history books. But, the intersection of race, values, and politics becomes very clear here. In fact, as I looked around, I saw only a few books and magazines in Chinese, despite hearing several comments about all of the Asian patrons (majority in this area are likely Cantonese speaking Chinese). Also, the employee commented about the different value systems of the patrons. She said that many parents asked “What are some good pure books in YA,” indicating, as she pointed out, that the parents wanted their kids to steer away from books about gender orientation topics, relationships, and so on.
These types of conflicts of values are all across the city. Canaryville, a neighborhood in the New City community area, is bordered by Bridgeport as well as Back of the Yards. Similar to Back of the Yards, Canaryville was known for the stockyards and meatpacking industries. The stockyard gates still stand just off of Halstead as a monument to the working class on which the city was built. The gates are definitely worth stopping by, if for no other reason than to understand the impressive (and oppressive) nature of capitalism. These three areas had once been strong communities of European settlers, including, especially, the Irish. Similar to Bridgeport and other European immigrant enclaves, Canaryville was quite exclusive. It was known for violent clashes during the race riots of 1919 following the drowning of a Black teenager, Eugene Williams, by white youth. Williams had crossed over an invisible racial divide in the water, moving from the Black beach to the white beach. He was attacked and killed. The riots, which took place all summer (dubbed the “red summer”) resulted in the loss of many lives and hundreds, if not thousands of Black homes. Later Canaryville became home to a sizable Black population and later immigrants from Mexico.
So, the name. Canaryville. To the best I can find out, it seems that the term arose due to the flocks of sparrows benefiting from rancid meat scraps in the packing industry. However, apparently, the title also was applied to the numerous Irish gangs known to act as “wild canaries.”
The library, as with the neighborhoods, demonstrate a clash in values and histories. Ironically, as the books on the shelves hold thousands of stories, the people in the library live them.