Adult programming at the public library takes many forms, like book discussion and creative writing groups, art and history lectures, and English and assimilation classes for immigrants. Public libraries have gone beyond being just an information source for their communities. They continue to seek new ways to remain vital, to better serve their current patrons, and to attract new patrons.
Librarians assess the interests and the needs of their communities and plan programs and offer services designed to meet these interests or needs. Diverse interests must be fairly considered and no one segment can be deliberately excluded from offerings. This takes time and money, resources which are often in great demand and short supply. Libraries are partnering with individuals, groups, businesses, and others to share the load.
Partnerships can be short term or long lasting, casual or formal contracts. Some partnerships serve a very select, sometimes even controversial, group of individuals while others have a much broader community appeal. Library staff must monitor these partnerships, keeping what works and adjusting or eliminating what does not work. They also form new partnerships to meet changing demands. Before entering into partnerships, libraries need to clearly define the objective and the responsibilities of each party (time, space, money). There must be open communication between the parties.
Good partnerships benefit all partners in some way, perhaps just making one partner look good in the eyes of the community. The benefits for libraries often include more patrons, greater visibility and support due to a strengthening of the relationship with the community, and the ability to offer services they probably could not or would not otherwise provide.
Alone, we are a library. We focus on collections and programs and services that we all know are critical to both a democratic society and to the values of our towns and cities. But, together with partners and collaborators behind and around us, we are a larger and more impressive force of good, of change, and of effect. (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 23)
Public Librarians and Social Work
Underemployment, unemployment, lack of medical insurance, hunger, foreclosure, homelessness—just a few of the economic needs public librarians in communities across the country are being asked to help with on a daily basis. Whether it is assisting with writing a résumé, finding a job, filling out and posting an online application, contacting a utility company, or locating resources, libraries and their staffs are stepping up, either alone or through partnerships.
In Maryland, the Baltimore Coalition for the Homeless and the Baltimore County Library partnered to print “street cards” to disseminate where to get necessities such as food, clothing, medical care, and shelter (Mars, 2012, p. 34).
The 2-1-1 service (a listing of social service resources) provided by United Way and the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems partnered with the Memphis-Shelby County Public Library in Tennessee to house the call center in the library (Cathcart, 2008, p. 89). Reference librarians provide callers with referrals, not counseling, to get the services they need (Cathcart, 2008, p. 90).
The School of Social Work at San José University in California and the National Association of Social Workers partnered with the San José Public Library to set up an area in the library where patrons, mostly homeless, can speak to a social worker or graduate student (by appointment) who would be available to help (Estreicher, 2011, p. 14). Patrons receive contact information and referrals to resources they need and follow-up help is also available (Estreicher, 2011, p. 14).
People needing these types of services may have poor personal hygiene. They may have medical, mental, or substance abuse problems. Or they may simply need a place to sit down. As Mars (2012) noted, programs helping individuals with these economic needs may result in other patrons objecting to their presence in the library, but libraries could make information readily available concerning the economic situation in the local community, which may lessen or even avoid some of the negativity (pp. 33-34). The fact is, individuals who need economic relief are coming to libraries. Libraries operate under an open access policy. Having programs in place, ready to provide the service requested, is an efficient and dignified way to meet the needs of people suffering economic hardship, and it is a positive reflection on the library.
Public Librarians in Correctional Facilities
Ninety-five percent of the approximately 2.24 million people imprisoned in the United States will eventually return to their communities, and strong family ties help ensure that the reintegration of this “largely invisible population” into society goes smoothly (Higgins, 2013, pp. 30-31). Literacy rates are lower and learning disability rates are higher among prisoners than among similar groups of the general public (Shirley, 2010b, p. 68). Libraries are entering into partnerships to provide literacy programs to promote library usage, to prepare inmates for reentry into the community, to strengthen the bonds between incarcerated parents and their children at home, and at the same time, to improve literacy rates for both parents and children.
The New York Public Library’s Correctional Services Program (CSP) received a grant of $3,800 from a “Daddy and Me at the Library” program paid for by the New York State Education Family Literacy Library Service Program (Higgins, 2013, p. 31). The CSP provided library services at the Eric M. Taylor Center on Rikers Island, and the CSP offered to start a family literacy program for fathers with young children, put together and funded by the CSP, to strengthen family bonds (Higgins, 2013, pp. 31-32). The resulting program included teaching the fathers about how children learn to read and write and how to choose books and read (or tell based upon the pictures if they could not read) stories to children (Higgins, 2013, pp. 32-33). Fathers recorded a story which was then burned to a disc, labeled, bundled with a new copy of the book and any letters or drawings fathers wanted to include, and delivered either in person at the facility or sent to the home (Higgins, 2013, p. 33). Library card applications were also made available and processed (Higgins, 2013, p. 33). The program utilizes volunteers and has been expanded and offered at additional facilities since its inception without additional funding beyond the original grant period (Higgins, 2013, p. 33).
The Somerset County Library System partnered with the prison library at the Eastern Correctional Institute West in Maryland to offer an adult summer reading game program (Shirley, 2010a, p. 72). Participants also wrote book reviews, which led others to read new books and increased circulation (Shirley, 2010a, p. 72). Some of the men encouraged their children to attend their local libraries’ summer programs, creating a common bond (Shirley, 2010a, p. 72). Participants were thankful for the program, seeing books as “new friends” and as a “stress buster” (Shirley, 2010a, p. 72).
The Maryland Correctional Education Libraries started the Reading Is Fundamental program and partnered with the Enoch Pratt Free Library to offer the program at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup and later at the Maryland House of Corrections (Shirley, 2010b, pp. 68-69). Inmates were trained to be facilitators, to tell stories, and to plan programs (Shirley, 2010b, p. 70). Participants in the program had to apply, had to be interviewed to make sure they understood that reading was at the heart of the program, and had to be approved by prison security (Shirley, 2010b, p. 70). Security measures were strictly enforced at all times (Shirley, 2010b, p. 70). The program was held in the specially decorated visiting room and books were displayed (Shirley, 2010b, p. 70). In a break from normal, children were allowed to sit next to their fathers (Shirley, 2010b, p. 70). Library card applications were distributed to participants’ families, and arrangements were made to include the family members in their local library summer reading programs (Shirley, 2010b, p. 71). Comments from the men indicated it was a positive experience (Shirley, 2010b, p. 71). Benefits include improved literacy skills for use after release from prison, incentive for good behavior in order to participate in the program and visit with family, positive interaction between the fathers and their children, participation looks good at a parole hearing, and an effective program makes the prison look good (Shirley, 2010b, p. 69).
Higgins (2013) notes that libraries have an inclusive mission, that in our society every citizen has rights, and that prisoners have a right to library services (p. 34). Some people argue that criminals give up their rights when they commit a crime, that prisoners are offered too many luxuries, and that public library resources should not be used for their benefit. However, the services provided help prepare inmates for a successful reentry into the community and cost far less than providing for a repeat offender’s return to prison. Further, money cannot begin to reflect the value of improving literacy among prisoners and their children.
Public Libraries Partnering for Programs, Services, and Technology
Ohio’s Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library uses partnerships to improve services, programs, and technology as it strives to be “the place where its residents meet and make good use of their community’s central meeting space” (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, pp. 15-16).
After remodeling the main branch in 2006, the library revised its meeting room usage policies, allowing rentals for things like baby showers, wedding showers, weddings, and family reunions (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 21). Much of the thousands of dollars earned from the rentals is needed to maintain the rooms, but benefits are derived from the guests who attend these functions—new customers who see the library as a center for engagement and support its activities (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 21). The library provides rental customers with the names of local catering partners who share a portion of their profits with the library and its Friends group (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 17). In addition, the library receives a discount whenever it has an event catered (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 17).
The library partners with a local vending machine company since food and drink are allowed anywhere in the library (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 15). The library requires that at least half of the items offered meet national health standards, but there are still lots of popular options, like pizza, and the library receives thousands of dollars from this partnership to use for programs and technology (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 18). The library also asked for a vending machine to fill with office supplies, which the company supplied at no cost to the library, and the Friends stock it with items like pens and paper and enjoy 100 percent of the profits (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, pp. 18-19).
The library has a space which it leases out at a reduced rate and in return the tenant provides free programs and events (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 19). It partners with a non-profit ceramics group and showcases their items in display cases and exhibits relevant collection materials when classes or programs are offered (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 19). The library also allowed a local theater to rent and convert an unused area of the building into a “Black Box” theater, complete with lighting and sound, at the theater’s expense (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 19). The theater partners with the library to host drama-type activities like plays and classes which the library could not offer before (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 19). It created a revenue stream which covers the cost of maintaining the program (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 19). The partners increased each other’s visibility in the community with their marketing strategies (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 19).
“Profit is no longer a four-letter word in library circles” (Hakala-Ausperk, 2011, p. 16). It spells success for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library as it has partnered to procure funds to improve technology, programs, and services by making the library the place to go for community engagement.
Is it reasonable for a library to expect its staff to go off site, such as to a prison, to better meet the needs of the diverse groups in the community it serves?
Cathcart, R. (2008). Librarian or social worker: Time to look at the blurring line? The Reference Librarian, 49, 87-91. doi:10.1080/02763870802103845
Estreicher, D. (2011). Our homeless customers and social workers in the library. In N. M. Hill (Co-Ed.), Public libraries and the homeless. Public Libraries, 50(6), 13-22. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/pla/publications/publiclibraries
Hakala-Ausperk, C. (2011). Waking up the neighborhood: Partnerships with local businesses and art communities. In K. Ellis (Ed.), Partnerships and collaborations in public library communities: Resources and solutions (pp. 15-23). doi:10.4018/978-1-61350-387-4.ch002
Higgins, N. (2013). Family literacy on the inside. Public Libraries, 52(1), 30-35. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/pla/publications/publiclibraries
Mars, A. (2012). Library service to the homeless. Public Libraries, 51(2), 32-35. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/pla/publications/publiclibraries
Shirley, G. (2010a). Has your public librarian been to prison? Participation in shared grant projects. In C. Smallwood (Ed.), Librarians as community partners: An outreach handbook (p. 72). Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
Shirley, G. (2010b). Has your public librarian been to prison? Participation in summer reading games. In C. Smallwood (Ed.), Librarians as community partners: An outreach handbook (pp. 68-71). Chicago, IL: American Library Association.