You can find more than books at the Baltimore public library today, as all branches remain open and fully staffed in the wake of protests and riots that have rocked the city.
With a state of emergency declared and schools closed citywide Tuesday morning, the Enoch Pratt Free Library has chosen to stay open, providing a hub of comfort and community to all Baltimore neighborhoods, including the ones most affected by the mayhem.
“It’s at times like this that the community needs us,” library Director of Communications Roswell Encina told MTV News. “That’s what the library has always been there for, from crises like this to a recession to the aftermath of severe weather. The library has been there. It happened in Ferguson; it’s happening here.”
Reports of violence, looting, and coordinated gang activity have been coming out of Baltimore since Monday night, erupting within hours of the funeral of Freddie Gray. Gray died late last week from injuries he apparently sustained while in police custody, resulting in an outpouring of anger from protesters who point to his death as the latest in a nationwide epidemic of police violence against unarmed black men.
At the time that we reached Encina, he and other members of the Pratt Library leadership were on their way to the library’s Pennsylvania Avenue branch — a location which is right at ground zero for the worst of the devastation, including the widely-televised burning of a neighborhood CVS Pharmacy.
“We’re across the street from that,” Encina said of the fire. “We just want to show the folks we’re there for that community.”
The Pratt had already received an outpouring of support on Twitter early Tuesday morning, with users from all over the city and the U.S. praising the decision to keep the doors open.
Encina expressed hope that today would mark a turnaround for Baltimore, with focus turning to healing the community.
“I’m heading to work, so from where I’m coming from, it looks normal. I’m going to try to stay optimistic on the other side of town,” he said.
He also had found one good reason to be hopeful already.
“Everyone is doing their part,” Encina said. “There’s one little thing I saw - an older gentleman who showed up at the crack of dawn, just sweeping the streets, right there at that intersection where our branch is. If they can do that, we can, too.”