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Why investing in libraries is a climate justice issue


When a heat wave hit the Pacific Northwest in late June, many cities and residents found themselves facing shockingly high — and lethal — temperatures: up to 116degrees Fahrenheit in Portland, Oregon, for example. Hundreds of people across the region died.

For many, the safest and most accessible place to escape the heat was also free — the library. Public libraries are increasingly opening their doors as cooling centers as officials develop emergency plans for heat and other extreme weather conditions. In Clackamas County, Oregon, authorities designated 21 local cooling centers; over half of them were libraries. Just north in Multnomah County, where Portland is located, around 7,600 people sought shelter in public libraries over four scorching days.

“Libraries are essential,” said the Rev. Vernon K. Walker, senior program manager at Communities Responding to Extreme Weather . The nonprofit helps turn libraries, churches and small businesses into climate resilience hubs — trusted community organizations meant to help educate people on extreme weather and provide a physical refuge during and after disasters. “Particularly for libraries that tend to be in Black and brown communities, and particularly in libraries that are in inner cities, they are critical, essential and needed,” Walker said. In […]

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