Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Yellow House - by Sarah M. Broom

My husband and I attended Broom's virtual session last year at Boston University's Anti-Racist Book Festival. We had not heard of her before, but she piqued our interest, and we ordered the book on Audible and listened to it together. The Yellow House is a memoir not only about the specific house in New Orleans where the author grew up, it is a book about our relationships with the places that form us. 

The youngest of twelve children, Sarah was born into the Yellow House where she lived with many of her siblings, although some of the oldest never lived there. The Yellow House was located in New Orleans Eastpart of the city's Ninth Ward. Hurricane Katrina was the second Hurricane the author, and the Yellow House experienced. As a baby Broom and her family were evacuated when Hurricane Betsy rampaged their home in 1965.

Although her school libraries get barely a passing mention, as a college student at the University of North Texas (where the "cost of [her] ignorance about college was high") she was
ravenous about learning, nearly living at the Willis Library where [she] spent seven or eight hours at a time hunched in a cubicle reading books about subjects fellow students seemed already to know.
After graduation, and a Master's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, Broom moved to New York to take a job with O Magazine. There she met Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell at an author event at the New York Public Library. Power convinces Broom to go to Burundi (a small African country mostly known as a neighbor to Rwanda). 

Bloom eventually makes her way back to New Orleans where she researches the history of the (now destroyed) yellow house at the New Orleans Public Library. 
To find the history of the Yellow House, I had to search original deeds, chains of titles, successions. I stalked the Conveyance Office, the Office of Vital Records, the Real Estate and Records Office in city hall, the Notarial Archives, and libraries. The search was full of cross-referencing and confusion.

I arrived many mornings at the main branch of the New Orleans Public Library in the business district, just across from city hall, and waited in line for the doors to open. If you didn't know better, you'd think the city was full of people eager to read, but actually the line was full of homeless people who had slept outdoors and were trying to get to the bathrooms. 
Broom goes on to describe posted rules of using the library that include the following "disallowed" behaviors: stalking patrons; using or exchanging drugs; bathing; shaving, washing up, or washing clothes in bathroom sinks; bad smells; oblivious  transmission of germs or excessive coughing; preaching or forcing your ideas on others. Also disallowed: weapons and shopping carts. "Most of these things still happened anyway...The library staff spent much of the time policing, which made it hard to get research assistance". 

Any library worker in public service can relate to this. Too much of our time is devoted to policing behavior. Many administrators, as well as library users, are unable to understand our work as anything beyond study hall monitors. We actually would prefer to help people with research rather than spending our time explaining how to use a photocopier, refilling printer paper, or (most recently) incessantly reminding people to wear their masks above their nose.

Find out more about Sarah Broom at https://www.sarahmbroom.com/

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