Sunday October 15th marked the beginning of the 18th annual National Friends of Libraries Week (Oct. 15-21, 2023). This celebration encourages people nationwide to build community through advocacy and support of local libraries. We at uSpark wanted to celebrate National Friends of Libraries week by highlighting a local grassroots effort to bring a library back to Fresno’s Tower District. According to Towerlibrary.org, “The Gillis Branch, currently near Fruit and Dakota, opened in 1940 near Olive and Palm. It moved a few doors down into a larger space in 1955, before moving to it's current location in 1975.”
Yes, you read that right, there used to be a library in the heart of the Tower District, and thanks to local advocate Brooke Payton there will hopefully be another in the future. In May of this year Brooke launched a petition to bring a library back to the Tower District, as of today 1,036 people have signed on in support of this effort. But how did we get here and how can the community support making this dream into a reality?
Six months ago, a meeting about Van Ness Village prompted a conversation around what the surrounding community wanted and needed. Arthur Robinson, age 37 local artist, advocate, and archivist asked if a library was possible as a means to address lack of resources in the area. Arthur is excited to see a library in Tower and how this will, “Spark a deeper conversation of how we can create spaces where we don’t have to pay to play.” Speaking of how libraries are one of the few spaces where all members of a community, especially those who are disabled or historically disenfranchised, can come and access resources that are entirely free. He says, “A library in the Tower would bring possibility and perspective.”
Brooke Payton ran a successful campaign to ensure local Tower bar, Spokeasy Public House, could keep their backyard. After the campaign, she knew that there was momentum and a need behind bringing a library to the Tower District. The TowerLibrary.org website was created, it includes historical documents of the original library spaces, a community survey, petition, donation link, as well as resources that libraries offer communities. The aim of the website is to build an understanding of what a library in Tower would provide residents and what libraries bring in general to the community.
The website was built with the help of her husband Derek and non-profit partner at Root Access Hacker Space, a non-profit located in the Tower. Root Access is community Hacker Space for artists, coders, crafters, and seeks to provide a space to fill gaps in access to technology and more.
The petition was launched, the first community meeting was set, along with a book sale fundraiser to kick things off and let folks know how to get involved. On the evening of September 26th a community meeting at Root Access Hacker Space was held to inform and update supporters, led by Brooke Payton and The Tower Neighborhood Association, it included a panel of local advocates to provide perspective and a vision of what this effort will look like as it evolves.
About 40 residents attended, of all ages and walks of life. Community member Maithayeng Vang, age 25 attended the meeting and when asked why she attended she stated, “I’m passionate about Fresno. I’m passionate about the Tower District specifically because it is definitely seen as the safe space for minority communities and deeply oppressed communities here in Fresno and it’s the only LGBTQ safe space area in town so I think it’s really important to uplift and protect the community that we have and I think bringing a library is really important here because information is power and accessibility of information is really key in uplifting a community.”
Similarly, Tower resident Rashida Ali says she, “Would love to actually see a library in the Tower District, the library that I usually go to is the library downtown or I go to local bookstores like Hart’s Haven. It would be nice to be able to add options to access books…This is something I want my children and grandchildren to have access to within the Tower community. I have a lifelong goal of owning a home here so that’s why it’s important to me to see a library in Tower.”
Now that the first community meeting and fundraiser has occurred organizer Brooke Payton says that folks can support this in a few ways;
1-Sign & share the petition.
2-Donate to keep this effort going.
3-Take the survey.
4-Contact your Board of Supervisors representative .
5-Stop by Van Ness Village on Art Hop nights for Lemonade for Libraries.
“Show the County Public Library that their libraries are relevant,” said Brooke, “We have 34 satellite libraries, please use them, each has calendars of events, if you need something different, want to meet people, go to your local county public library.”
When asked what she hopes people take away when learning about this effort, Brooke responded, “If I could help bring a library here, then those other communities could be like well she did it… If those other communities can see we can do it, then they’ll think we can do it too.”
Happy National Friends of Library Week, please show your local libraries and advocates some love! https://towerlibrary.org/