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Public Libraries & Special Spaces: Building Community

Girl using a computerLibraries play a unique role in community building – not only through sharing books and information, but also by offering special spaces where people in the community can meet in small groups, classes, workshops, or in large audiences — such as auditoriums and lecture halls. For example, Teton County Library has auditoriums and half-auditoriums available with audio-visual and projection screens, as well as meeting rooms. Providence Public Library hosts a Music Film & Concert Series and Houston Public Library has both poetry events and open-mike poetry nights, while Ann Arbor District Library hosts gaming tournaments.

Libraries provide showcases for local artists, with exhibit and gallery spaces such as at Olean Public Library and Charleston County Library. Libraries also offer spaces for building and creating. such as Chicago Public Library’s digital media youth learning spaces, and Cleveland Public Library’s TechCentral which includes 3-D printing. Some libraries even offer outdoor learning spaces, such as the low-water-use demonstration Botanical Garden at Glendale Public Library and the Children’s Living Library Garden at Huntsville Madison County Public Library.

Libraries provide special Centers for helping with important community needs – Santa Cruz Public Library reserves Homework Center computers for kids’ schoolwork during special hours, with the first 10 pages of homework printed for free. Springfield Free Public Library’s Read/Write/Now Adult Learning Center teaches reading for adults at the Pine Point branch. Nashville Public Library and Seattle Public Library are two among many offering Job Search and Job Resource Centers. Many other libraries offer special research centers such as the A.C. Bilbrew Library’s Black Resource Center, Arlington Public Library’s Center for Local History, Belmont Library’s Enrico Fermi Cultural Center for Italian American resources, and the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.

Some libraries extend special spaces out into the community – for example, Schaumburg Township District Library has ten “deposit sites” in the local community at places such as senior centers, providing collections that rotate every six months. Many libraries operate mobile special spaces via vans, buses, and even bikes – such as Seattle Public Library’s Books on Bikes. Missoula Public Library’s mobile computer lab also offers passport and notary services.

Does your library offer special spaces to the community? Check out our iMapLibraries’ Special Spaces map.

You can also add your library’s information to the map!

To find out more about iMapLibraries, visit us at : http://imaplibraries.org/

– Lorri Mon, Associate Professor at Florida State University, for iMapLibraries

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Beyond Books: Libraries Helping the Community

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How do public libraries help communities?  Here are some real-world examples of the wide-ranging ways libraries help people:

Supporting teachers – many libraries offer a special teacher’s library card with extended benefits, plus additional help such as Miami Dade Public Library’s JumpStart Storytime Kit for Pre-K and Kindergarten programs, King County Library’s KidReach Bookboxes with 80 books every 50 kids, or Multnomah Library’s Buckets of Books with 24-30 books on a topic plus a teacher’s guide, as well as help with customized book collections and webliographies; 

Supporting students and helping homeschoolers – beyond all the ways we know libraries already help students, Multnomah County Library has a homeschooling liaison to help homeschooling parents; live online homework tutoring is a special extra support offered on many library web sites – as seen for example at Houston Public Library and Los Angeles Public Library;

Helping jobseekers – libraries provide classes, workshops, resources, and individual assistance to job seekers such as drop-in job club and career coaching sessions at New York Public Library, and Pierce County Library’s “library in a bag briefcases” of job seeking and small business resources.  Some libraries such as Fond du Lac Public Library run computer labs and resource centers for job seekers — Memphis Public Library even operates a JobLinc mobile career/job center bus bringing the help to the job seekers;

Supporting small business – some libraries offer special programs supporting small businesses – for example Grand Rapids Public Library operates a small business research center, and at North Richland Hills Public Library you can schedule individualized small business counseling sessions;

Supporting nonprofits – at Fayetteville Public Library, a Nonprofit Resource Center helps individuals and nonprofit organizations identify potential grant funding sources, while Monroe County Public Library’s  Nonprofit Central offers one-on-one counseling for nonprofits;

Helping seniors – many libraries such as Pikes Peak Library offer special resources and classes for seniors; often libraries will deliver items to homebound seniors, as with Jasper County Library’s “walking books” program; Forsyth Public Library among others provides “BiFolkal Kits” designed to spur reminscence and reflection for seniors;

Helping disabled users – libraries often have accessible computers and programs to help disabled users; at Eugene Public Library, a Braille embosser can print documents in Braille, and Nashville Public Library has special library services for the deaf and hard of hearing;

Providing bilingual and ESL services – Forsyth Public Library operates a Spanish Bookmobile called the “Bibliobus”; Jasper County Library is one of many that teach English as a Second Language and offer bilingual computing stations; Fresno Public Library has staff fluent in Spanish, Russian, Armenian, Punjabi, French, Hindi, Arabic and a variety of Asian dialects and operates a Spanish/English bookmobile service called AprendoVan;

Supporting the local arts community – many libraries offer display and performance spaces for local writers and artists, such as the Art and Display space at Flathead County Library; also the Marin Free Library showcases local Marin poets in a digital archive;

Teaching technology skills  – many libraries teach classes and workshops on computers and technology skills. King County Library System operates a mobile Techlab bus for teaching computer classes “on the go,” and Westport Public Library is among those offering a Makerspace with a 3-D printer.

That’s just a small sampling of how libraries are helping people in local communities.  How does your library help – what special programs and services are offered at your library? 

– Lorri Mon, Associate Professor at Florida State University, for iMapLibraries [Showcase the programs and services at your library – you can put your library on the map for classes and workshops, senior services, Spanish services and special spaces such as homework centers, computer labs, meeting rooms etc. at iMapLibraries]