Thursday, March 3, 2016

14 Critical Public Library Services Beyond Books

Books are the public library brand, the word most associated with them. With the proliferation of eBooks and online resources, some people question the need for a larger Library building. The Plainfield Library offers much more than simply the physical collections. Here are 14 important things the Library provides beyond its physical collections. 

1.   The Library Provides Early Literacy Support
Right now, Plainfield is projected to have 4,000 more children under age 5 by 2030.  The building was meant for a population of about 30,000. Today, we serve over 75,000.  The Library wants to support the child care centers in Plainfield as a partner in early childhood literacy through story time programs and learning services, as well as collections. We want to make sure every child who is cared for in the home by a relative has a librarian in their lives to deliver the same high quality early literacy engagement they’d receive at a preschool.  If the referendum passes, we will have a library that is not only welcoming, but ready for 21st century learning.

2.   The Library Helps Hold Kids at Grade Level
The Library supports school-aged kids reading skills and holding them at grade level through the Summer Reading Program. Summer Reading offers special events and incentives to encourage them to read. We want to give every kid in Plainfield the opportunity to participate in Summer Reading. Capacity is limited in the current building to 120 kids per event. Even running two sections of an event, which is costly, we don’t have enough seats for all of the families that want to participate. If the referendum passes, we will have a library with the capacity to get even more kids participating in Summer Reading to set them up for success in the next school year.

3.   The Library Extends Learning Beyond the School Day
The Library is a partner in student success by extending learning beyond the times our schools and school libraries are open. We offer enrichment opportunities like computer classes, programs that are fun and informative, homework help and online learning resources. We want to make sure every student has the learning support they need to be successful. If the referendum passes, we will have a library with the tools and learning environment our students need for 21st century learning. 

4.   The Library Helps Families with Special Needs Kids
Statistics show alarming increases in children with learning disabilities and autism. Currently, our library provides 6 sensory story times per year for children ages 3 to 9. The Library wants to provide every individual with access to social and literacy resources. The Library can be the perfect public place for these children and teens to cultivate social and literacy skills. These families need programs and space that are adapted to their special needs in order to help them feel secure. The Library can provide a social and educational outlet where they feel welcome. If the referendum passes, we will have the space necessary to support our families with special needs kids and teens to access social and literacy resources.

5.   The Library Offers a Positive Place for Teens to Hang Out
The Library had a teen lounge area at one time, but the space was needed for more shelving. We want to offer a positive environment for teens, as well as a comfortable place for them to hang out. We need to make sure that every teen has a safe haven when they need one and give them activities and resources to help support their development into solid members of the community. Our librarians are experts at connecting with teens and helping channel their energy in positive ways. If the referendum passes, we will have a place where teens enjoy a positive environment that supports their development.

6.   The Library Bridges the Digital Divide
The public library is frequently the only place in a community to get free access to the Internet and the computer or device needed to use that access. Plainfield is no exception. Increasingly, students find it necessary to complete homework utilizing the Internet at public libraries after school. If they cannot access the Internet, they cannot do their homework. The Library bridges the gap for those households that cannot afford Internet access at home. Access to technology is at the heart of 21st century library services. If the referendum passes, we will provide access to the devices and bandwidth that bridge the digital divide.

7.   The Library is a Retail Anchor of Downtown Area
Hundreds of people visit the Library every day. Studies show that when a library is located in a retail area, spending at businesses near that library increases. Our Library not only increases foot traffic in the downtown area but also partners with the Village to offer public parking that supports downtown businesses. If the referendum passes, library visits will increase which in turn will increase foot traffic for surrounding businesses.

8.   The Library Supports Job Skills Development
Right now, the Library offers more than 15 computer classes every month. The computer classroom limits class size to 8 people. The Library wants to provide opportunities to improve job skills through computer classes and continuing education. We partner with Will County Workforce Development to bring their Mobile Workforce Center to the Library weekly. We want our labor force to have the job skills needed for success in the workplace. If the referendum passes, we will be able to provide more job skills training for 21st century workforce.

9.   The Library Offers Job Seeker Support
Today, the Library offers a monthly job club meeting. With a building meant for a population of 30,000 serving a community of over 75,000, our programs compete with each other for the limited space available. The Library serves as an important partner with other agencies focused on employment activities, such as Illinois WorkNet. In addition to helping people find actual jobs, the Library supports preparatory steps such as creating resumes, researching job information, submitting applications online, and receiving training for job-related skills. If the referendum passes, we will be able extend our reach in helping people find jobs.

10.       The Library is an Economic Development Engine
Small businesses that do not have the ability to adapt and reposition their businesses using current and detailed online information are at a serious disadvantage in the competitive, global new economy. The Library strengthens economic growth and resilience in the micro and small business sectors by providing not only the resources they need to be competitive, but also hands-on training in using those resources. Through partnerships with SCORE and the Chamber of Commerce, the Library connects businesses to a broader network of support. If the referendum passes, we’ll be able to extend 21st century services that give our local businesses a competitive advantage.

11.       The Library Builds Community identity
Plainfield’s rapid growth left the community struggling with its identity. The Library connects people with the larger community, providing a gathering place where all are welcome. The Library has value as a comfortable place where people can gather, especially as opportunities for social interaction have decreased in the wake of more people seeking out services online. If the referendum passes, it will be that comfortable place to gather.

12.       The Library is a Social Leveler
Many of our residents are able to purchase books, subscribe to magazines, and conduct their research online without ever visiting a library. But not all of our residents and families have those options. Universal access is one of the most important strengths of the Library.  Libraries give everyone the opportunity to improve themselves and their life circumstances, as well as enhancing leisure time, by giving them the chance to socialize and by providing access to activities others take for granted because they can afford them. Access for all is at the heart of public library services.

13.       The Library Provides ESL and Inclusion for Immigrants
Plainfield’s immigrant population has been growing – and English language learning and literacy support is critical for them. Learning English can improve so much for these new residents – from better jobs to feeling connected and valued within the community. One of our regular ESL participants, who is now tutoring others, compares our Library to an island. When she came to this country, she felt like she was drifting in an ocean, feeling lost and disconnected. When she found the Library, it became her island, her home and connection to the community. The Library’s English language learning support helps immigrants become engaged members of the Plainfield community. If the referendum passes, we’ll add the needed capacity for these growing ESL classes.

14.       The Library Reaches Beyond Its Walls
With its undersized building, the Library has had to be creative in how we offer service. One thing that makes our Library unique is the amount of programs that are offered at locations throughout the community rather than in the library building. From an “Appy Hour” class on smartphone apps at a local tavern to “Donuts and Digital Books” at a bakery, the Library takes its show on the road. But not all programs can be held at other locations. The Library wants to offer both on site and off site locations for programs. If the referendum passes, we will be able to offer more and larger on site programs while continuing to offer off site programs too.

If the referenda fail, all of these services will be competing for funding with projects necessary to keep the existing building operational in the long term. Services that:
  • ·         help our youngest kids be ready for school
  • ·         hold school-aged kids’ reading skills at grade level over the summer
  • ·         support our kids learning beyond the school day
  • ·         support families with special needs kids
  • ·         give our teens a positive environment
  • ·         level the playing field by providing access to technology for all
  • ·         provide job skills training
  • ·         help job seekers in their search
  • ·         invest in our own community and workforce
  • ·         support local businesses
  • ·         connect people with their community

It’s not fearmongering or a threat to talk about what happens if the referenda fail. An estimated minimum 20% cut to programs and services will be needed to fund the projects necessary to keep the existing building operational in the long term. That’s the reality of a 25 year old building that’s been heavily used and the needs identified more than a decade ago that continued to grow when the 2009 referendum failed. The need continues to grow today. The proposed plan going before the voters on March 15 meets the needs of today and prepares the Library for the future.

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