When Camas Public Library staff were brainstorming a theme for their first-ever “Read for Change” community reading initiative, library director Connie Urquhart said staff couldn’t deny the social justice issues happening throughout the nation.
“We are not immune to everything that’s going on in the world as library staff,” Urquhart said. “We had been missing our community and felt the need to do something to reach out to our community, to connect with them in a meaningful way. So we thought, ‘Why not have something we can do every year? A community reading program based around some sort of change in today’s world.”
Several big issues stood out: climate change, transgender rights, poverty in America, Urquhart said, but one theme seemed more urgent.
“This year, there is no denying what we’re seeing in today’s world,” Urquhart said. “That is racial inequality.”
With a theme of racial equity at its core, the inaugural “Read for Change” initiative will feature speakers, documentary screenings, discussion groups, book giveaways and a lending library filled with books about racial equity.
Starting this week, library patrons can contact the library to request a free copy of Ibram X Kendi’s books, How to be an Antiracist and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You.
There is a limit of one of each title per household, and Urquhart said she hopes people will read the books and then pass them on to other community members. The library, which is still closed to inside pickups due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, will offer curbside pickups on Northeast Fourth Avenue for those who request the book.
The Friends and Foundation of the Camas Library purchased the books and donated them to the community for the “Read for Change” program.
The titles also are available in ebook formats.
“For the physical books, our hope is that they’ll pass them along and have a conversation,” Urquhart said. “It’s great to read the book, but the value is when people start talking about these issues.”
Library staff chose Kendi’s books for a variety of reasons.
“How to be an Antiracist is at the top of the bestseller list right now … and has had really positive reviews,” Urquhart said. “But, also, the author is doing a ton of speaking engagements, different web specials and Zoom meetings, so we’ve got a lot of supplementary material we can provide for our patrons.”
The Stamped book is geared toward younger, middle readers, and the library is working on getting copies of Kendi’s Antiracist Baby board book for their youngest readers.
The library also will have copies of Jason Reynold’s book, Ghost, for fourth- through sixth-grade readers and Sally Warner’s book, EllRay Jakes is NOT a Chicken! for readers in second and third grades.
Keynote speakers set for Aug. 25, Nov. 12
To bookend the 12-week Read for Change program, two keynote speakers will address patrons via Zoom.
The first speaker, Alexis Braly James, of Portland, will host a “Building Bridges: Race as a Social Construct” talk at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25.
At the end of the Read for Change program, the library will partner with Humanities Washington to present Timothy Golden’s talk, “Equality on Trial: Race, Fairness, and the U.S. Supreme Court” at 6 p.m. Nov. 12.
Other Read for Change events include exclusive access to filmmaker Melissa Lowery’s documentary, “Black Girl in Suburbia,” book discussion groups and a “take-one-leave-one” book lending library located outside the library with racial equity themed books donated by the community.
“We are thrilled to kick off the inaugural Read for Change program with such an important theme. We have already had incredible community support, just in the planning stages. We knew we had to adapt and make this work in a virtual environment because the timing is so crucial. Providing a place for community conversations around race is key,” Urquhart said.
For more information, visit camaslibrary.org.