We all need somewhere safe to go.
Editor's Note: This story discusses suicide. If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, or know of anyone who is in need of help, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 200+ crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 9-8-8. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
This secondary offering has lately been overshadowed by political controversy, as there has been a laser focus from conservatives on the types of literature libraries provide, especially titles that pertain to LGBTQ and racial topics.
But one librarian’s retelling of a life saving encounter reminds us of how essential these community spaces really are—and it has nothing to do with books at all.
Mychel Threets, who works at the Solano County Library in Northern California, has an entire Instagram and TikTok account dedicated to library life.
While his videos are quite often book reviews and tips, he also has plenty of his own inspiring stories involving patron interactions that show how libraries can be catalysts for human kindness.
Like this one:
@mychal3ts The library is where you belong, where you’ll ALWAYS belong 💚✨ #booktok #librarytiktok #storytime ♬ original sound - mychal
Recently Threets had been going about his regular chores, when he saw a patron who appeared to be homeless. Threets had greeted this person like he would anyone else, but, as many unhoused individuals are met with hostility, this person assumed Threets was trying to shoo him away.
"They start grabbing their bag, saying, I'm leaving, I'm leaving, I'll go, okay," Threets said. After Threets assured the person that "I want you to be here in the library," and asked if they were okay, the patron replied "my brain hurts.”
Threets considered this statement as "an incredibly interesting way to say that you're struggling with your mental health."
As Threets continued to listen, the persons went on to say that a few days prior they had wanted to “unalive themselves” and “didn’t think anybody cared.” But because Threets and the rest of the Solano Library staff were kind to them, their feelings had changed.
Threets noted with enthusiasm that this exchange perfectly captured "the power of the library, of connection, of interrupting someone's day with a simple greeting, with saying hi."
Threets has even learned that this person had come to the library every week as a kid, and clearly still found the space to be a safe haven.
"That is a grown-up library kid who needs help, who needs someone to tell them that they belong,” he said. “I’m so proud that my library people made them feel welcome.”
Third spaces—that is, places to gather that aren’t work or home, like cafes, gyms, parks, malls, etc.—are already dwindling in America. The ones that do remain aren’t always free, and certainly are not always welcoming to everyone.
Libraries, however, are a third space that meet this criteria, and it’s partially why Americans continue to value the role public libraries play in their community. In a time when underfunding and culture wars threaten these vital spaces, it’s important to remember the true service they provide.
As Threets eloquently put it. "That's all that we're trying to do in this world together is exist.... Come to the library where you belong."