Commentary

Louisville schools, churches and government buildings were shuttered on Thursday–about a foot (or more) of snow covered the streets and sidewalks around them.

Some people were stranded on roads. Some sled the day away at city parks.

Others, though, were getting work done.

As the clock reached noon Thursday, Aquira Thomas walked out of the Shawnee Library on West Broadway feeling “relieved.”

For the past few hours Aquira, 11, had been inside the library at a computer making progress on a school research project.

The sixth-grader studied the interactive pages of Encyclopedia Britannica, soaking in information about Harriet Tubman, her research topic.

Shawnee Library, like all other Louisville Free Public Library locations in the city, stayed open Thursday.

“Kids still have assignments that need to get done, homework to do,” said Laura Strickland, assistant branch manager at the Shawnee Library.

“We’re here to serve them.”

The libraries served more than students.

Aquira Thomas’ mother, Kyeshia James, also spent Thursday morning at the library. Like her daughter, she worked on a school assignment on a library computer, a review of an Alice Walker short story.

Kyeshia James (left) and her daughter, Aquira Thomas.Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

Kyeshia James (left) and her daughter, Aquira Thomas.

James, 30, is a first-year student at Jefferson Community and Technical College, studying business administration.

She said she got back in school to be able to better provide for her children.

“It’ll be better for them, better for me, as well,” she said. “I’m trying to have a really good career and I don’t think it’s too late, it’s never too late.”

In fact, the quest for a career is perhaps the most common reason residents visit the Shawnee Library, said Betsy Bryant, a library employee.

The unemployment rate in the Shawnee neighborhood is about 18 percent, according to a 2014 report by Network Center for Community Change.

The library, Bryant said, is often the only place residents in a neighborhood with a 26-percent poverty rate can go to access resources like email or a printer.

“It’s empowering people,” she said.

And James, with her 750-word report fresh off the printer, appreciated the fact that she can count on her neighborhood library to open up shop, especially on a snow day.

“Because no one else is open and this assignment is due tonight at midnight,” she said.

Her daughter, Aquira, wasn’t working under the same deadline pressure. Her report isn’t due until next Friday.

She held a printed photo of Harriet Tubman that she planned to paste onto a poster board. Aquira said she felt lucky the library’s resources were available for schoolwork on a day when so much else, including school, shut down.

“I would like to follow the path that my mom is going down,” she said. “I would like to go to college and get an education.”

Midday, the two dashed through the cold and climbed into their SUV and pushed through the slush to their home a few blocks away.

Meanwhile, back at the library, about 20  people browsed the shelves and the web. Some searched for employment, others immersed themselves in fiction. All found refuge in the library in a snow-covered city.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.