By Kevin Smith

This is a guest post written by Jennifer Chan of UCLA

On June 1, 2016, UCLA’s Westwood campus was suddenly thrust into the media spotlight across the world when a shooter entered a campus building and fatally shot one of our engineering faculty. I was just days shy of my one-month anniversary as UCLA Library’s Scholarly Communication Librarian. What I knew, and what most of us on campus knew that June morning, was that “police activity” had been reported at the other end of campus. Far, but not far enough. Soon, the details began trickling in.

You may have viewed footage of our students seeking refuge and safety in campus buildings by barricading doors with furniture or securing them with belts. What you did not see were those banging on the doors of the law library for entry, or images of the students here on our floor of the Charles E. Young Research Library. Some were hiding in bathrooms where doors were weighted down with their backpacks, others were hiding behind boxes. Despite the varied backgrounds of these students, many ventured to their respective libraries, expecting us to be open to them for shelter.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the events of that morning, we at the library did not yet know if the threat we were facing was active or had been neutralized. What we did know was that we had a group of frightened students to reassure. My supervisor unlocked her office to offer sanctuary to the nearby students. In that moment, “library as safe haven” transformed from rhetoric to reality. While we connected to news from the local media and our campus Bruin Alert system, we hoped to reinforce in the minds of these students a reality of the library as a safe place, despite the uncertainty in our own minds about the events occurring around us. We all handle difficult situations differently. While a couple of the students were glued to every new tweet that came through, another student focused on asking questions about his research. Huddled together, a research interview doubled as a chance to provide both information and a sense of calm.

June was a difficult month. In the days and weeks since the shooting, we all worked hard to move beyond this tragic event. Commencement ceremonies were held to celebrate the achievement of our students, and retirement ceremonies to commemorate years of dedicated service. Our hearts have been filled with emotion. Yet sadly, violence has not left our lives. We were met with the tragedy of Orlando, and the month of July brought us more violence.

I cannot adequately describe the importance of your chosen vocation, but allow me to share a bit about what has led me down my personal path. In 2007, I worked in one of the “Katrina trailer” library facilities funded by the Gates Foundation to serve areas along the Gulf Coast that had lost a library due to the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It was there that I had an experience that has become one of my most salient library memories: A man walked through our doors and declared that he was so glad to see us because he had driven over two hours just to find an open library, with power, working computers, and access to the internet. The importance of access was no longer an abstract ideal, but a concrete reality: in providing access to others, both giver and receiver reap the benefits.

As librarians, we provide welcoming, open, and inclusive spaces, and constantly work toward achieving open access to knowledge, in hopes that our efforts at disseminating and preserving the scholarly record will allow all to advance. Whether stated or not, there is an expectation from others for us to be open: to keep our doors open, to provide open access to materials, to support the educational pursuits of those we serve. We are a profession with a giving heart and a long memory. We have taken naturally to the Open movements of recent years: Open Access, Open Education, Open Data, and so on. The Library,regardless of type, serves as sanctuary; we embody the spirit of The New Colossus. We live and work in a world that is constantly confronted with challenge and uncertainly. Let your library be a safe and open place for the mind to blossom, unfettered.

About the author — Jennifer Chan is the Scholarly Communication Librarian at UCLA Library and is part of the Scholarly Communication and Licensing Unit. She is the current Vice Chair of the ALCTS-STS Scholarly Communications Interest Group, and current Co-Chair of the LITA Altmetrics and Digital Analytics Interest Group. Her twitter handle is @jtcmlis

Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith is a librarian, a lawyer focusing on copyright issues, a scholarly communications advocate, and the Dean of Libraries at the University of Kansas.

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