April 20, 2023
How libraries serve our communities, and how to return the favor
It’s no secret that Reading Partners and public libraries have a lot in common. Both public libraries and our reading centers are full of books for kids to read on site and take with them when they leave; both provide literacy-building programs; and both are full of people who are passionate about reading and want to share that love with others. Here are the many different ways public libraries serve communities, ideas for celebrating National Library Week, and action steps you can take to support your local library.
What is National Library Week?
National Library Week has been celebrated by all kinds of libraries every April since its inception in 1958. The very first theme,“Wake Up and Read!,” was chosen in response to the concern that Americans were reading less as other forms of entertainment became available. According to the American Libraries Magazine, over 5,000 communities participated, and the campaign was successful in increasing publicity and funding for libraries across the nation. For example, New York’s state legislature increased their library appropriation by $700,000 that year. Many other cities such as Tulsa, OK, formed Friends of Library groups, whose mission is “to aid and promote the activities and goals of the Tulsa City-County Library system… through diverse programs and activities responsive to a wide range of needs and concerns.”
This year, the dates are April 24-29, and the theme is “There’s More to the Story,” highlighting the lesser known ways that public libraries empower the community. Read on to discover what more there is to the story of public libraries today!
The important ways libraries serve our communities
As reported by Brookings, public libraries are an important example of “third places” in our communities, places where people can gather and connect outside of work and home. Third places break down barriers and build connections between community members by providing informal meeting spaces and internet access, both for planned gatherings as well as more spontaneous interactions between people who might not otherwise cross paths. These aspects are critical for the health and economic well-being of cities, suburbs, and rural communities. Public libraries are especially important third places as their services are free and accessible to all.
Book Riot highlights several ways public libraries make the most of their role as a community hub. Librarians are often trained to assist people with social service needs, such as housing, career, and high school equivalency assistance, and many libraries partner with and/or hire social workers to better serve their patrons. Libraries often have specialized collections, resources, and programs for particular groups of people—preserving tribal cultural history, providing advocacy resources for LGBTQ+ folks, hosting citizenship and language classes for immigrants and refugees, and more.
Here are just a few specific examples of the amazing work being done by public libraries in some of the cities where Reading Partners operates:
- The Seattle Public Library provides dozens of programs and services including music and dance performances, election resources, genealogy consultations, and career help.
- The Oakland Public Library offers museum passes, California State Park passes, toys, video games, and over 5,000 tools to check out.
- The Tulsa City County Library hosts a variety of events and community service opportunities for teens; digital courses in world languages, performing arts, and more; and specialized services for veterans and people with disabilities.
- The Dallas Public Library is one of many libraries that are active on social media. These accounts are used to raise awareness about book bans and inform people of the many services libraries offer. Tiktok accounts in particular target a teen audience, promoting critical literacy to combat disinformation and ensuring they know that libraries are for them, too.
- Queens Public Library in NYC offers fitness programming from Zumba classes to wellness workshops; reentry resources for individuals experiencing incarceration; and an audiovisual archive of local history. This includes oral history interviews with Queens residents, recordings and flyers from local events, and digital photos from the neighborhood.
Check your own local library to see which services are offered to your community as well—you may be surprised by what you find!
Ways to celebrate National Library Week (and support your local library!)
Libraries offer so much to our communities, and they need our support in return. Recently, there have been increasing efforts across the nation not only to ban books but to defund libraries altogether, such as in Michigan, Texas and Missouri. If you’re looking for a way to prevent this in your own community, these National Library Week events serve to raise awareness and support:
- Monday, April 24: National Library Week always kicks off with the annual “State of America’s Libraries” report, so check it out to learn more about the successes and challenges in libraries over the past year.
- Tuesday, April 25: National Library Workers Day is an opportunity to show some love for the librarians and other library workers in your life—recognize them here by filling out a short questionnaire, or just take a moment to say “thank you” for their service!
- Wednesday, April 26: National Library Outreach Day celebrates the way library workers get their resources out to folks beyond their own walls through bookmobiles and other initiatives—learn more by checking out #LibraryOutreachDay on your preferred social media platforms!
- Thursday, April 27: Take Action for Libraries Day is an opportunity for citizens to contact their legislative representatives in Congress and in their state and local institutions to fund libraries. Let your elected officials know what the library means to you, your family, and your community!
There is so much at stake in this effort to save our libraries. As Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the American Library Association says, “We’re seeing a real loss… of that understanding of the library as a community institution. And the loss can be so great. A public library is essential not only for reading books, but… the public library has really turned into that place, that third place you go to. Not only to read a murder mystery, but also where you can find support and information to live your best life, to find work to support your family.”
Join us in celebrating National Library Week and ensuring that our libraries continue to serve our communities for generations to come.