Chuck Collins came through the door shaking his head, saying to no one in particular, “No one ever had anything bad to say about her.” Everyone in earshot nodded their head in agreement.
Rev. Aurelious Walker set the tone for an extraordinary memorial for Linda Brooks Burton by simply stating that her life was its own eulogy. Everyone who followed was similarly brief.
Linda, for 15 years librarian at the Bayview branch library of the San Francisco public library, had impacted so many people so profoundly that they didn’t need to embellish it.
In life, she gave them a voice and a place to feel special.
One would have been hard pressed to check out a book for 25 miles around with the overflow crowd of librarians, all shocked that such a vigorous advocate for literacy has passed at such a young age. Equally present were the people of Bayview, generations of which credited her with improving their lives.
We met when I curated an exhibition in the new Main Library in its first year in 1996 entitled Our Roots Run Deep. Although she was the newly named Bayview librarian, she was clearly the citywide advocate for African-American literature and history anywhere in the system, taking on the values of pioneers like Effie Lee Morris and Josephine Cole and Dr. Arthur Coleman. She always had a positive answer for expanding that presence, which also meant one could not say no to her.
At her urging, I took on a board spot on the Friends of the Library to make sure the funding for those initiatives was available. As chair of the Friends’ library services committee, I got to make sure those issues were kept up front. We also had to raise money for renovating 26 branches. It bothered me that Bayview, where the need was greatest, was at the end of the schedule. In fact, the money ran out before the construction began.
But for Linda, that was an opportunity. She pressed me into service to testify for a supplemental appropriation of $1 million to actually expand and build a new library.
Now that gleaming new facility is open and active. Hundreds of people joined in a petition to name that building in honor of her. If you haven’t signed it yet, go by the Bayview branch library and make your wishes known.