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Ukrainian libraries, serving as bomb shelters, continue to prove that libraries are our best hope.

Eliza Smith

March 9, 2022, 2:43pm

In March 2020, I happened to be working at a library for the first time (shoutout to my friends at BPL), and got to witness up-close how quickly the staff pivoted their services to respond to the pandemic: shifting programming online and expanding their virtual presence; starting a delivery service for anyone in the zip code with staff members in their own cars; creating resource guides on COVID, food and shelter assistance, and fake news; and eventually becoming a distribution spot for COVID tests. They talked passionately and at length about how to get information, books, and human contact to folks in their community.

Now, Ukrainian librarians are heroically responding to Russia’s invasion. As reported by NPR, they’re serving as bomb shelters (where kids while away the time choosing books), refugee reception points, and meeting locations for organizing logistics. They’re bringing in psychological experts to support residents, offering home care courses, fighting misinformation, protecting their collections, and, of course, making sure people can access books. Oksana Brui, president of the Ukrainian Library Association, told NPR that camouflage nets for the military are being woven in libraries, and that books are being transferred to libraries in neighboring countries receiving Ukrainian refugees.

It should also be said that several libraries having been damaged or destroyed by Russian bombing—in Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Starobilsk, and Severodonetsk.

As Fobazi Ettarh reminds us in her article “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” the sort of awe I’m indulging in now, however will-intentioned and genuine, contributes to the martyrdom, burnout, and low salaries of librarians worldwide (and indeed, a cursory search turned up the monthly salary of librarians in Ukraine is lower than the average monthly salary across all fields).

Which is all to say, celebrate the heroic efforts of librarians—and pay them, too.

(Pictured above: 2014 barricades at the National Parliamentary Library in Kyiv.) 

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