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Library unites Ithaca in polarized times

Tompkins County Public Library hosts events despite censorship backlash

Leila and Alex Livingston work together to build a LEGO Campsite | Source: Brooke Vogel

As they built a campsite for their LEGO figure and toy dog, Caramel, four-year-old Leila Livingston explained why they love LEGO Build Night so much. 

“LEGO night is the best night ever because I get to make anything I want,” Livingston said. 

LEGO Build Night for Families, hosted every Tuesday night, is one of the many events the Tompkins County Public Library (TCPL) hosts for the community. Other events include child, tween and adult book clubs, a queer craft club and Makerspace sessions.

Building a community

Acting director and assistant director of TCPL Teresa Vadakin shared how the library’s events have had a lasting impact on its patrons. 

“I once helped this patron get a job at Autozone,” Vadakin said. “He had no idea how to use a computer, he was scared of it. He still calls me once a year to say thank you.”

The library helps the Ithaca community by providing patrons with the opportunity to express their creative outlets, and the supplies to do it.

The Makerspace, according to librarian Cady Fontana, is a free-to-access space where people come in to do all things creative. The room contains sewing machines, laser cutters, 3D printers and more. “Anything you can dream up, we can make happen,” she said.

Before walking into the room, it’s evident that the Makerspace is full of creativity | Source: Brooke Vogel

Andreas Candelario, a patron of the Makerspace, discussed how they believe the TCPL helps build community. 

“I’m very introverted but having a hobby and being around other people that can connect with me, I find that really helpful,” Cantelario said. “It gives me something to grab onto because sometimes I’ll feel detached from the world but being able to come here to have a good time and destress helps my mental psyche.”

TCPL faces external backlash

As the library tries to bring the community together through inclusive programs, there are external forces trying to tear them apart. Vadakin explained that a major problem the TCPL, as well as various libraries nationwide, have been facing is censorship issues. 

In June 2022, CatholicVote started a campaign to “Hide the Pride.” This movement was aimed to empty local libraries of progressive sex and gender-related material meant for children. 

People were encouraged to check-out any Pride Month books in order to take them off of display at their local library. Vadakin believes the TCPL may have been a target of this campaign. 

“A patron put a whole bunch of books off of display and put them in their bag without even looking at them,” Vadakin said. “They were returned, but it was after the month was over.”

Last year, the library held a drag program where they invited teens to learn how to put on makeup and perform drag shows. Vadakin said that once a local alt-right group heard about this event, she and other staff members received death threats. 

She said that although she had to call the police a few times and add additional security to the event. 

Luckily it went by without a hitch, Vadakin said.

A hero’s mission

Despite these incidents, Vadakin and the rest of the library staff are determined to keep holding events and building community for everyone.

“We want our community to feel like the library is the best place to be,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone knows that the library is meant for everyone.” 

One of the library’s missions is to foster opportunities for people of all ages to discover, connect and create. 

“I think we need to keep defending what we’re doing,” Vadakin said. “Librarians are the heroes without capes.”

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