Author Archive: Cass Balzer

ID Made Easier

September 1, 2022

“We saw how hard it was for [residents] to get electricity, rent an apartment, open a bank account, or pick up their children from school” without them, says Damaris Gonzalez, an immigration rights organizer with the nonprofit Texas Organizing Project (TOP), which has been advocating for enhanced library cards in the state. These cards are … Continue reading ID Made Easier


Northwestern library workers assemble on campus

Getting Organized

March 1, 2022

Library unionization efforts are blooming around the country, taking place in public, private, and academic institutions of all sizes. In Maryland, Baltimore County Public Library workers have joined the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and in Colorado, Denver Public Library (DPL) staffers formed Denver Public Library Workers United, a unit of the Communications … Continue reading Getting Organized


Man in plaid shirt, back to camera, films library patron with a cellphone

Uptick in First Amendment Audits

January 3, 2022

“My heart sank,” Ryan says. She had learned about these encounters in 2020 and knew what they entailed. In First Amendment audits, individuals arm themselves with video cameras, proclaim themselves “auditors,” and enter public buildings, like police precincts and libraries, to record alleged Constitutional violations. “I know what these people do, so when I heard … Continue reading Uptick in First Amendment Audits


Kathy McFadden (right), a staffer at Sussex County (Del.) Libraries, hands out rapid, at-home COVID-19 testing kits during a drive-through distribution event at Seaford (Del.) District Library in August 2021. Photo: Delaware Division of Libraries

Put to the Test

December 1, 2021

In Delaware, the Division of Public Health (DPH) approached the Delaware Division of Libraries (DDL) with a plan to distribute more than 75,000 BinaxNOW antigen self-tests through the state’s public libraries for three months from summer to fall 2021. “I think it’s a slam dunk that [health departments] would think of libraries,” says Alta Porterfield, … Continue reading Put to the Test


A protester at the Save Niles Library rally in July. Organizers met at a local park, then marched to the library for a public hearing on proposed budget cuts.

A Conflict of Values

November 1, 2021

Incumbent trustee Becky Keane-Adams responded immediately, saying she wholeheartedly disagreed. “Books are windows,” she began. “If you open a book and you can never see yourself in it, then it’s hard to figure out who you are.” The comments of Makula—elected in April along with candidates Olivia Hanusiak and Suzanne Schoenfeldt, who like Makula identify … Continue reading A Conflict of Values


Man in plaid shirt, back to camera, films library patron with a cellphone

Uptick in First Amendment Audits

August 26, 2021

“My heart sank,” Ryan says. She had learned about these encounters in 2020 and knew what they entailed. In First Amendment audits, individuals arm themselves with video cameras, proclaim themselves “auditors,” and enter public buildings, like police precincts and libraries, to record alleged violations. “I know what these people do, so when I heard it … Continue reading Uptick in First Amendment Audits


A health care worker from Schenectady County (N.Y.) Public Health Services (right) wheels in the vaccine while David Bradley (left), a member of Friends of the Schenectady County Public Library (SCPL) and spouse of SCPL Director Karen Bradley, checks in vaccine recipients. Photo: Karen Bradley

A Shot in the Arm

May 3, 2021

“Now, we’re getting these big commercial vehicles—these long tractor-trailer things that pull in here,” says Bradley. “It’s quite the image.” In 2020, many libraries proved essential to their counties’ coronavirus pandemic response by acting as testing sites, manufacturers of 3D-printed personal protective equipment, and donation centers for food pantries. In 2021, some are once again … Continue reading A Shot in the Arm


Boxes of medical supplies await use at Schenectady County (N.Y.) Public Library, which is serving as a COVID-19 vaccination site. (Photo courtesy Karen Bradley)

A Shot in the Arm

February 2, 2021

“Now, we’re getting these big commercial vehicles—these long tractor-trailer things that pull in here,” says Bradley. “It’s quite the image.” In 2020, many libraries proved essential to their counties’ coronavirus pandemic response by acting as testing sites, manufacturers of 3D-printed personal protective equipment, and donation centers for food pantries. In 2021, some are once again … Continue reading A Shot in the Arm


University of Kentucky in Lexington is attempting to remove a 1934 mural by artist Ann Rice O’Hanlon (detail shown here). Photo: Mark Cornelison

Drawing the Line

November 2, 2020

Roughly eight decades later, some of the images depicted in those murals are now recognized as racist. Deciding whether to remove, alter, or retain these murals can be challenging; not all stakeholders agree on a course of action. At University of Oregon’s (UO) Knight Library in Eugene, four stairwell murals commissioned under the WPA have … Continue reading Drawing the Line


Police in a library

Rethinking Police Presence

July 8, 2020

For example, Toledo–Lucas County (Ohio) Public Library (TLCPL) has announced that when it reopens after its COVID-19 shutdown, many of the security staff members in its branches will no longer carry arms or wear uniforms. In addition, TLCPL is forming a public safety working group that will “attempt to untangle complex questions about what safety … Continue reading Rethinking Police Presence


What’s Lost in a Furlough

June 5, 2020

One of the biggest challenges—the effect on morale—is heightened when furloughs arrive with little warning, little support, or both. “Communication has been terrible. We are actually finding out more from the news than from our own admins,” says Cara*, an assistant at a branch library in Tennessee who was furloughed the week of March 20 … Continue reading What’s Lost in a Furlough


Boxes of returns organized by day in the large meeting room at Elmhurst (Ill.) Public Library. All items sit in quarantine for three days before small teams working in shifts check them in and reshelve them. Photo: Alea Perez/Elmhurst Public Library

Reopening Gets Real

June 2, 2020

Both library services and the spaces themselves will look much different from before the pandemic. Changes include limiting capacity and computer use, putting one-way walking markers on floors, requiring both patrons and staff to wear masks, having sanitizer available, installing Plexiglas sneeze guards, and allowing appointment-only entry—all intended to prioritize staff and patron health. Still, … Continue reading Reopening Gets Real