Applause for Public Libraries

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Applause for Libraries

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about the wonderful programs offered by our public libraries.

Let’s be honest—a lot of us take libraries for granted. I know I used to. I thought of libraries as the places that held me captive for hours in high school when I had to write term papers. I remember the dreaded card catalogs that I had to dig through to find my much-needed book locations and the microfiche readers that held the microscopic copies of the journals my teachers required me to use as resources. The libraries were eerily silent and often darker than I would prefer. Even though I was an avid reader, I didn’t necessarily enjoy libraries.

Now, though, I could spend hours in a library. I love the educational programs, the magazine reading rooms and the movies mine has for rent for one dollar. I even worked at a library for a short time—one of my favorite odd jobs. There’s a lot going on every day at a library that many people don’t stop to think about.

First—computer access. Libraries often provide a critical technology link for people who may not have a computer in their homes or for people who need to stop in on a break and print resumes or check email.

Libraries also provide educational programs for children and adults, and these programs are often free. Story times for kids and classes for adults can enrich any community. At my local library, adults can attend programs that teach them to knit, offer advice for writers, or let participants meet a master gardener and ask questions about the next planting season. Lecturers come who give advice about taxes or Social Security or making wills to families who don’t know how or where to get started.

The local artists and musicians in our community also join in on the fun at the library. Our symphony has brought musicians to our library to play for families and talk about their instruments. Theater groups have performed skits in the open spaces. Writers give readings, and even magicians perform a few magic tricks for the audiences who take a break from their busy schedules to have a little fun at the library.

In today’s podcast, I want to highlight two libraries that are doing an exceptional job of reaching out to others and using their resources to meet the needs of their communities.

First, let’s look at Chicago’s public library system and specifically their Laundromat Story Time. I found this good-news story in a U.S. News articlewritten by Joseph Williams in December 2018. The article begins by reminding us all of the importance of reading to young children. Many educators have concluded that future academic success can begin with simple bedtime stories and books shared by family members.

But not every home has books that are readily available to children. And even if they have books, not every parent has a lot of extra time to read. There’s a lot of daily chores involved in running a household and raising children. But the Chicago library system created a program to bring books to some children while the parents are handling one very time-consuming chore: getting the laundry done.

Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods have about 14 laundromats that fill up daily with parents needing to keep younger kids occupied while getting the family clothes clean. Chicago librarians saw a golden opportunity to read to these children. The librarians bring in colorful mats for the kids to sit on and bring with them plenty of books and even musical instruments to add to the fun. The kids are read to. They then get to join in the singing and games. Sometimes librarians bring in puppets to add to the experience.

Parents are learning, too. They are getting a glimpse of ways to engage their children and give their brains the boost they need for future learning. Not all parents know how to help their kids develop strong literacy skills. Families and entire communities are benefitting from the library’s willingness to reach the people where they are and to assess the needs of all community members.

Great job, Chicago libraries! Hopefully other cities will reach out to them and get information from the model they have created to make this program successful.

The next city I’m going to talk about is Miami. The Miami-Dade Public Library System has developed an upcycling program to meet the needs of two groups of people in their communities. I discovered this inspiring story from an article written by Ellen Bookfor Public Libraries Online.

Their program is called “Helping Hands: Upcycling with Dual Purposes” and is an arts and crafts program that meets the needs of two communities. The library wanted to reach out to both older adults and to the homeless in their area. This program reaches both groups at the same time. Older adults gather at the library to enjoy social time together. This gathering time helps many of them break the monotony of their days and helps them break the cycle of loneliness that touches many of their lives.

While they are at the library, these senior adults are tackling the problem of what to do with our overabundance of plastic bags while also helping the homeless population. The bags are turned into a type of string and woven into mats that can be given to the anyone living without a home. The disposable bags have been kept out of landfills and instead have given people comfort. It takes approximately 198 bags to make one adult-sized mat.

The Miami-Dade Public Library System and the Chicago Public Libraries are examples of organizations that think creatively in order to bring about positive changes for their communities. They are still serving the students who need to come in and do research for papers and readers can still come in just to check out books for the weekend. But these librarians are also looking to serve different populations and meet different needs—touch the lives of people who may not even walk into their libraries.

This is what I’m talking about when I use the words “Look to See Me.” These two library systems looked to see the people in their communities. Chicago librarians saw the needs of young children in low-income families. They knew these kids deserved to be read to as much as the kids who could walk through their doors. And they saw the needs of these busy parents who were doing the best they could with the resources they had—parents who were taking care of their families and doing the necessary work of tasks such as laundry.

Miami-Dade librarians looked and saw the needs of their older patrons who wanted time to feel useful and give their gifts back to the community. They also needed time to sit with their peers and just chat about life and their memories and share hope for the coming days. These librarians also saw the need to keep tens of thousands of plastic bags out of the landfills and saw the need of the homeless community members who could use a sleeping mat to provide a little comfort in the midst of their struggles.

Your challenge this week: visit your closest public library. Look at their programs brochures and see what all they have to offer. Find ways you can support the community programs they have designed to reach out to others in your town. Check out a good book or a movie while you are there. It’s a free way to try out new authors or reconnect with one of your favorites.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

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