CLEVELAND — “To me, libraries have always been really peaceful.”
Shayla Boyce is in her peaceful place standing between the shelves at the Mt. Pleasant branch of the Cleveland Public Library.
“For so many people, myself included, the library was finally a space where we see you and we value you and you are important to us,” she said. “It’s a community spot. It’s a safe haven.”
Working in a library and the impact libraries have had on her life isn’t easy for her to put into words.
“It’s a feeling that’s hard to explain.”
But one thing is easy for Boyce to articulate—why libraries are important.
“They’re really those places where you can ask those questions and have hard conversations, whether it’s with yourself or someone else,” she said.
Answers to some of those questions can be found on the shelves in libraries and bookstores across the country.
“It really kind of allows the reader to take a step into that world and see,” Boyce said.
A step into a world readers may not be comfortable with but want to learn more about.
“They’re really looking a lot for the anti-racism,” she said about the most requested books recently. “They’re looking for ways to improve themselves to support their community to become advocates, to become allies.”
As the branch manager of the Mt. Pleasant branch, Boyce was waiting for readers to start asking for books about race.
“I think having a wide variety of perspectives and opinions is what’s going to really broaden your mind and create that fuller picture of an issue or a question or a subject matter,” she said.
Boyce isn’t alone. Across the city, Edward Parker owns and operates a multi-use art space.
“So I decided to put the books in so they can get a chance to look and have a read at the same time,” he said.
Parker is a longtime Cleveland resident and prolific sculptor. Most of the rooms in his space at 13240 Euclid Ave. are full of Parker’s original works of art.
His first-floor book store is small but full of classics.
Parker, a fan of Malcolm X, said reading books by authors of color is important right now.
“You can’t get anything accomplished if you don’t talk about it. You’ve got to meet as brothers and sisters.”
After the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia sparked nationwide outrage and protests, black-owned businesses across the country are seeing sales rise.
Lists of suggested reading, both non-fiction and fiction, are floating around on social media.
Boyce said smaller shops, bookstores owned by people of color and libraries could have more authors of color than larger book stores.
“It can be very easy to lose those smaller titles in a big bookstore model,” she said.
The Cleveland Public Library has a list of recommended reading on their website.