There’s a good reason that Canton Charter Township in Michigan is so aware of the activities of the Canton Public Library (CPL): in addition to circulating about 1.8 million items per year and holding about 1,086 programs attended by some 35,000 residents, the library has worked with 72 different businesses, agencies, and organizations, according to Laurie Golden, the department head of community relations.
The library’s work in enhancing services for its service population of 90,173 and forging strong local partnerships stem from a three-year strategic plan that was completed in 2011, Golden says. “The Canton Public Library connects your community” became the library’s new mission. The strategic plan encouraged library staff to tap into the local expertise and further tailor collections, programming, and services to community needs with user profiles and feedback from focus groups and comment cards. All of this, of course, supported by a per capita budget of $56.69.
“We really feel that the library is a community hub,” Golden says. “Not only are we connecting people with resources, books, maps, viewing, and listening material, but we also help people connect with each other. We’re a very multicultural community, and we do a lot of programming to get to know the neighbors and community people and what they want to know and their hobbies. So it’s really been the driving force for everything we do.”
For facilitating that connection, Canton and its library have won the inaugural LibraryAware Community Award, cosponsored by Library Journal and LibraryAware, a product of EBSCO Publishing’s NoveList Division. The Canton Public Library will receive $10,000 and the township will receive a plaque (for finalists, see sidebar below). The award was created to honor a library for “getting out to the community and demonstrating its value” and to highlight a community that values its library, says Nancy Dowd, product lead for LibraryAware.
LibraryAware Community Award 2013 Finalists
Skokie Public Library, IL
Skokie Public Library (SPL) and its community are the second-place LibraryAware Award winners and will receive $7,500. Among Skokie’s notable efforts to reach out to the community: some 28 members of its full-time public services staff spend six percent of their time going to community meetings and events, attending board meetings, and serving on community boards and advisory committees to learn about local needs. Two of SPL’s staff served on the Advisory Committee that helped the village’s Health Department develop a five-year Health Plan; one serves on the village’s Family Commission; and another on the Telecommunications and Technology Commission. “Their integration into the fabric of the local government is especially noteworthy,” says Ron Carlee, COO of the International City/County Management Association and one of the LibraryAware Award judges.
SPL serves a population of 65,066, with a per capita budget of $163, or about $10.5 million in total. The library circulates more than two million titles per year and sees over 800,000 physical visits, plus about 1.2 million virtual ones (not counting the traffic to SkokieNet, the library’s community website).
Hartford Public Library, CT
Third-place winners, Hartford Public Library (HPL) and its community, will receive $5,000. The library’s ten branches enjoy more than 865,000 visits per year—almost eight for each of Hartford’s 125,000 residents. The library circulates more than 540,000 titles per year, and its more than 7,500 programs had an attendance greater than Hartford’s total population.
In addition to providing traditional library services, among HPL’s community-oriented innovations is the American Place program, designed to welcome Hartford’s large immigrant population—nearly 48 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home—and foster cross-cultural understanding and communication between new arrivals and long-time residents. HPL does this and much more on a budget of less than $10 million per year (or about $77 per capita), in part by seeking grant funding and both public and private partnerships.
LibraryAware Award judge Ron Carlee says of Hartford, “Working in an extremely challenged [area], the library is partnering with the local government and other institutions to tackle tough issues that are core to building a successful community: citizen engagement, employment, and immigrant support.”
“We are elated to receive the inaugural LibraryAware award,” said Eva Davis, CPL director. “Our staff works hard to know our community and anticipate their changing needs, and the library’s Board of Trustees guides us with a patron-based vision and the financial stewardship necessary to help us offer viable, relevant programs and services. Receiving [this] award is validation of our efforts to connect our community, and we are honored to be chosen.”
The award drew about 100 applications from across the country, says Dowd. She also says that the contest judges—Ron Carlee of the International City/County Management Association, Deborah Jacobs, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries Initiative, and Jorge Martinez, project lead of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Universal Access Initiative—were selected for their expertise and various perspectives on community work. LJ staffers Josh Hadro and Michael Kelley also aided in the selection process.
A community center
Nearly every aspect of the library’s services and activities are community-oriented, but some highlights stand out:
• Providing 65 outreach programs for people of all ages, including volunteer-led programs, such as multicultural activities (Tamil Story Time, English-Language Learners Conversation Group), literacy (Reading Assistance Dogs, Whalers Story Time), and fitness (Yoga for Kids)
• Developing a five-part small business series to promote the library’s business collection and services
• Initiating a partnership with Schoolcraft Community College and the Michigan Small Business Technology Development Center that led to the creation of the Small Business Resource Center
• Running “Stuff the Truck” drives for the Detroit Area Diaper Bank, a local charity, which resulted in collecting more than 100,000 diapers for low-income families over the last four years
• Partnering with Starfish Family Services, a county agency that provides the families of vulnerable children with parenting workshops and babysitting services
• Allowing patrons unlimited use of 147 computers with Internet access and providing free training classes for software and new technology
• Hosting free academic tutoring sessions, with National Honor Students volunteering to assist other students
• Creating two new spaces in the children’s library for early literacy programs: the Baby Nook and the Early Literacy Area.
Beyond the walls
The Canton library’s collaborations don’t stop at bringing more community into the library—the library also goes out into the community, including for story time sessions at the Canton Farmer’s Market and book discussions at the Canton Vintner’s Cellar, Canton Place and Waltonwood (senior citizen residences), and Starkweather, Plymouth, and Salem high schools. Meanwhile, the library likewise partners with Canton Leisure Services (the town’s recreation department) to offer story time presentations at township events (and the annual summer camp) in exchange for using township-owned fitness equipment and fitness instructors.
The library also serves as a clearinghouse to send community members back out to other events that they might not otherwise find via the revamped Connect Your Summer program, directing participants to events and programs throughout the community to collect more than 2,870 badge awards.
A two-way conversation
To promote events and services and solicit input from the community, the Canton Public Library employed social media, establishing accounts with Flickr in 2006, Facebook in 2007, Twitter in 2008, YouTube in 2009, and Pinterest in 2012. The library hasn’t forgotten more traditional communications channels, however; its work and programs are also regularly featured in stories by the local media, especially the Plymouth-Canton Patch, an online news site, and the Canton Observer newspaper.
One of Canton’s communications and community innovations is involving the populace in developing its collection, not just using it. The Canton History Collection is a joint venture between CPL and the Canton Historical Society.
The library also hosts its own community discussion forum, which boasts community, education, and entertainment sections, as well as library-related topics, and partners with CantonWiki for more user-generated content.
Tangible proof that the library’s efforts matter to the community abounds: Canton residents and other community members have shown their support for the library through donations and fundraising. Some 500 library patrons contributed more than $37,469 for the library’s operating and endowment fund. A group of middle school students raised more than $3,000 for new library study rooms through Destination Imagination, a program that encourages teams to develop creative thinking skills and innovation.
Right on target
Dowd says LibraryAware was particularly impressed with CPL’s ability to work alongside so many different community agencies, organizations, and businesses and with the library’s strong focus on literacy. “They stayed on target with what they wanted to do, they reached out to a lot of people in the community, and they were creative in how they engaged with the community,” Dowd says.
The most inspiring activities were the tutoring program with National Honor Society students, the literacy programs for babies and young children, and the support for low-income families via collaborations with Starfish Family Services and the Detroit Area Diaper Bank, Dowd says. “That really brings together the different generations…around the topic of literacy.”
A rewarding award
The Canton Public Library staff members were “surprised and thrilled to the core” to learn about Canton’s receiving the award, says Golden.
Golden also notes that the library is still figuring out what to do with the money, but most of it will likely go back to providing programs and services. Future projects for the library will focus on providing more literacy programs and teaching 21st-century learning skills.
“We’re very thankful to Library Journal and EBSCO for selecting us,” Golden says. “We’ve never had a national award like this one. It sends a message to our staff that all of their hard work, their ideas, and attention to our patrons are working.”
Other Canton Township community members were enthusiastic about the win as well.
Marybeth Levine, founder and director of the Detroit Area Diaper Bank, wrote that she was “thrilled” for the library, “a phenomenal organization that goes above and beyond for the community and its patrons and is staffed by the greatest group of people.”
“Speaking for the Diaper Bank, we couldn’t be more grateful to have such an established, engaged, and effective community partner as the Canton Public Library,” Levine wrote. “They are very community-focused and involved and support a number of nonprofit and community organizations; we feel lucky to count ourselves among them.”
Phil LaJoy, the Canton Township supervisor, and Debbie Bilbrey-Honsowetz, the Canton Leisure Services director, wrote in an email that they were likewise delighted Canton Public Library was being recognized for the “excellent resources and support for their patrons and the community.”
The library has been an “extraordinary partner” in community programming, LaJoy wrote, and the library staff frequently work on providing cross-program and marketing services to reach a wider audience.
“Canton Township administration has witnessed firsthand how the library actively engages our community, and we are all the better for it,” LaJoy wrote. “They are committed to staying current with rapidly changing technologies and use these to communicate with, reach, and assist an exceptionally diverse population in our community.”
LaJoy added that he is honored the township will receive a community plaque, and he will find a “high-traffic area” to display the award “in order to share it with our residents so that they can also join in this communitywide celebration. We feel it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate Canton’s successes and share them with others.”
Michelle Lee is studying library science at Pratt Institute, New York. She previously worked as a newspaper and online journalist for Patch.com, the Bergen Record, Press of Atlantic City, and Providence Journal.