When Nicole, the intercultural liaison from our Mayor's office asked me -- on two days notice -- if the public library could host the mobile Mexican consulate for four days this month, issuing passports and ID to Mexican citizens, I had to think about it. But not for long.
The meeting room was available. My only real concern was that they needed the building during hours when we would normally be closed, and we would need to make sure the library was secure, and that we would be able to maintain restrooms, etc. It turned out that with two exempt employees volunteering to work extra time, it would be feasible to pull it off, so it only took me a couple of hours to say "yes."
Making the Library available was my decision and I'm glad to take responsibility for it. I had only a flicker of reality checking and asking myself if this is the right thing to do. Our mission statement says in part that the "...library is a center of community life, offering opportunities for people ... to gather...". Our long range plan says we're a community gathering place and we:
- Provide programs and services relating to local history and cultural diversity.
- Work cooperatively with other local organizations to strengthen the community.
Some people in the community have been unhappy that some of those who used the services of the consulate were illegally in this country. I understand the concern: in a government of laws, to sanction systematic flouting of those laws will create problems. At the same time, these problems are bigger one our library or city. The President and Congress can't quite figure it out, so I didn't expect that we would.
But if some of those who came to use the services of the consulate were illegal, many were not. Some were actually referred by the US Immigration Service as part of their citizenship process. Others were legal residents who simply needed to renew passports. In any event, whether legal or illegal, our police, banks and hospitals -- as well as libraries -- like it when people can present valid identification. The consulate staff expressed concern about validating and documenting anything they issued -- people who did not qualify were turned away. I don't know if any given person who came to our doors was legal or illegal. I do know they were all people.
In the end it was a great experience. Dozens of community volunteers from churches, schools and support groups were there, doing a great job to facilitate communications and help the staff. While there were hundreds of people who went through the system in each of the four days, queuing in the middle of the night to get a passport, everyone was extremely well behaved and courteous. The library staff received many thanks, from volunteers and local supporters as well as visitors. We ran through our supply of Spanish language brochures on "how to get a library card."
There was no time to take this decision to the Library Board, but I will recommend that if the Consulate wants to come back next year, we welcome them. We've learned a few things about bilingual signage; with more advance notice, it will be easier.