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The Mass Media

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February 20, 2024
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Boston Public Library holds unity gathering following hateful incidents

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Josh Kotler
Boston Public Library’s main branch in Copley Square, where two of the recent incidents took place. Photo by Josh Kotler / Mass Media Staff

On Saturday, Feb. 19, demonstrators and librarians gathered to “display unity, kindness and healing” after a series of disturbances at the Boston Public Library regarding COVID-19 safety regulations. The gathering was entitled “‘Fill the Library with Love’ Unity Gathering” and was held outside the Boston Public Library’s Central Branch on Dartmouth Street, near Copley Square.
The gathering was used as a response to the increased harassment and hateful incidents that have occurred in the Boston Public Library in the past few weeks. 
According to a statement provided by the Boston Public Library, “in three separate recent incidents, a group that is opposed to masking, vaccines and diversity came into children’s rooms at the Central Library and the Hyde Park Library to protest COVID-19 protection measures […] While there, they intimidated and harassed members of the public and staff at the library and refused to leave when asked.” 
The president of the Boston Public Library Professional Staff Association, Maty Cropley, also revealed that a bronze bust of Maya Angelou was vandalized on one of the days where anti-maskers came to protest the library’s regulations.
The statue was found to have gasoline poured on it and was vandalized within the first week of Black History Month. As Renée Graham, a Boston Globe writer, puts it: “vandalizing a statue of a Black woman writer who dared this nation to look at itself is pointed, painful and on-brand.”
Officials have not directly linked the vandalism and protestors, but Cropley has maintained that the protests have occurred from a general group opposing diversity, masking and vaccines. 
The demonstrators gathered to show their support for the staff, as well as show respect for the library system itself as it continues to be a target for hate over the past few years. One demonstrator spoke on their reasons for joining the unity gathering: “I just got very angry. I said I won’t go into Boston for many things now, but I will be here for the library because the library saved my life when I was a kid, by learning, by educating, by being a safe place.” 
There has been a rise in requests of book bans in libraries across the country, a rise in book burnings and now harassment of library employeesthe trend of hatred surrounding an institution that primarily focuses on sharing and making knowledge accessible has been on a notable rise in the last six months to a year.
Earlier this month in Waltham, Mass., someone took out every book with an LGBTQ title reference from a small free library outside the homes of Katie Cohen and Krysta Petrie, who also sport pride symbols outside their home. “We don’t necessarily consider it a theft, since the books are provided for free,” Cohen told NBC Boston. “We do consider it censorship. We do consider it harassment.” 
Librarians have felt the pressures of anti-maskers as well as those attempting to censure, ban or harass artists and art intended to celebrate the resiliency and legacy of differing groups more acutely in the past few years of the pandemic. They informed local Boston CBS News that they hoped their Unity Gathering shows a clear message of togetherness and love in the face of hatred and bullying. 
Those working at organizations such as the Boston Public Library typically have no say over regulations regarding COVID-19 enforced in their establishments. Cropley urges people to remember this and stresses a message of togetherness: “We need to work to make sure that all are safe in this space, and we need to ensure that the city provides effective safety measures to prevent hateful disruptions in our libraries.”

About the Contributors
Sean Liddy, News Writer
Josh Kotler, Photographer