The Louisville Free Public Library aligns with civic goals and a broad array of partners to empower and improve
its community systematically
It seems that everyone in Louisville, KY, is busy learning, and the Louisville Free Public Library (LFPL) is right in the middle of the action. There’s a lot to do: half of Louisville’s children are not kindergarten-ready, many students are not reading at grade level, and 20 percent of adults lack high school credentials, so LFPL has launched a host of creative initiatives in the past two years to address these community needs.
LFPL’s leadership—along with its collaboration with the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) and many other local institutions in efforts to improve literacy, support lifelong learning, and teach new skills needed in the local workforce—has won for LFPL the 2016 LibraryAware Community Award. The award recognizes LFPL’s engagement with the community, its needs, and the priorities of its civic institutions, as well as the library’s ability to make Louisville fully cognizant of what LFPL does and can do. The award is presented by Library Journal and funded by LibraryAware, a product of EBSCO Publishing’s NoveList Division. It carries a prize of $10,000.
Books for every kid
Just a week before Christmas, LFPL was giving away 149,000 new and slightly used children’s books from a book production company that used to rent them. All the books, a mix of award winners and classics, were in great shape, and some boxes had never been opened. The problem was that the books had to be picked up before January 1. Julie Scoskie, LFPL’s inventive director of education and outreach and a 2016 LJ Mover & Shaker, turned to her friends at JCPS, who found transportation for and warehouse space to store the volumes. Scoskie had been a teacher until now-retired LFPL director Craig Buthod, the 2010 LJ Librarian of the Year, convinced her to join his LFPL team nearly three years ago.
“I’m always talking to stakeholders. I always try to find out what they need the most,” says Scoskie. “When I started at the library I asked my old friends at JCPS where they needed our help the most. Their first answer was kindergarten readiness.”
To meet that need, LFPL, following Scoskie’s lead, joined with Metro United Way, JCPS, and others to create the “1000 Books Before Kindergarten Challenge,” an idea they borrowed from Brennan, IN. The Community Foundation of Louisville came up with $50,000 to keep the program going for at least two years. So far, it has reached more than 18,000 children, providing them with books they can keep.
After that, LFPL went on to support the JCPS “3rd Grade Reading Pledge,” using some of the 149,000 books and an alliance with Metro United Way. Every student in grades K–3 was given books to take home and was encouraged to enroll in the “Share 100 Stories Before 4th Grade” program.
In 2016, LFPL collaborated with JCPS to promote a Literacy Empowerment month in March, with special programs at nine LFPL locations. Also beginning in 2016, a new local initiative called “Read to Your Bunny” will work in tandem with Family Health Centers and the Metro Health Department to target low-income mothers of newborns through parents enrolled in the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Program. It will provide incentives and teach the importance of parents reading to children of all ages. A book, a bunny, and a Read to Me bib will be given to mothers. To connect to the continuum of services LFPL offers, mothers will also be linked to the “1000 Books Before Kindergarten Challenge.”
For older students, LFPL offers homework help; ACT Strategies, study nights, and online resources; access to the College and Career Center (supported by AmeriCorps VISTA) to learn more about their career interests; and access to CODEvelop, a game development and computer programming summer class.
The promotion of literacy and workplace skills training extends to adults as well. More than 600 adults have signed up for the nationally replicated Code Louisville training scheme, provided by the local Workforce Investment Board, KentuckianaWorks, with LFPL’s support. Code Louisville was created to address a critical workforce shortage in Louisville that is also a need throughout the United States. It is difficult for companies to find employees with the necessary computer programming skills. Code Louisville matches skilled mentors with people who want to learn coding. When the local Workforce Investment Board started the program, LFPL had just purchased Treehouse, an online learning platform on which one can learn coding, website development, and other applications. Treehouse became the middle ground between mentors and learners. The program expanded thanks to the national TechHire program, which brought President Obama to Louisville for the launch. Graduates leave the 12-week intensive class workforce-ready and with countless career options, some with starting salaries as high as $50,000.
In addition to Treehouse.com, LFPL offers adults access to a long list of online resources including newspapers, test preparation tools, and reference sites. LFPL partnered with metro government and KentuckianaWorks to offer Lynda.com, enabling a valuable professional development resource and a workplace training program. More than 2,500 patrons are using Lynda.com.
LFPL also distributed over 51,000 Cultural Passes though its 18 branches. The passes gave families free access to many of the city’s venues that usually charge admission. Distributing the passes through the library introduced many families who didn’t already use LFPL to the organization and connected them to library resources. Registration for new library cards spiked, and a record-breaking 50,400 children completed Summer Reading 2015.
“I was incredibly impressed by the large number and diversity of partnerships with the Louisville Free Public Library—from the Louisville Metro government and Jefferson County Public Schools, to United Way, Community Foundation of Louisville, KentuckianaWorks, AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, the Metro Health Department, and Family Health Centers,” wrote Amy Garmer of the Aspen Institute, one of the award judges. “Such an expansive number of [alliances] demonstrates that LFPL is recognized as an important service provider and valued [member of] the community. I was also impressed by the way [the library] has connected its own planning for services and partnerships to the broader goals of the mayor and city with the Cradle to Career education pipeline.”
The PLUS brand
Fundamental to LFPL’s mission is to provide the broadest possible access to knowledge, ideas, and information to the people of Louisville and to support them in their pursuit of learning. The Louisville Metro government and LFPL have adopted the national Cradle to Career education pipeline, making them accountable for success in four categories: early education/kindergarten readiness, K–12 success, high school to postsecondary completion, and 21st-century workforce and talent. LFPL provides overarching support across the pipeline, helping individuals and collaborating with organizations, including JCPS, Metro United Way, and 55K Degrees, a public-private partnership that aims to add 40,000 bachelor’s degree and 15,000 associate’s degree holders to Louisville by 2020.
To emphasize and promote this commitment, LFPL has created the Public Libraries United with Schools (PLUS) brand. LFPL staff help lead the effort to identify learning and skills gaps and implement programs to support achievement for Louisville area residents of all ages. Since the inception of PLUS two years ago, and the focus on the Cradle to Career pipeline, LFPL has fine-tuned delivery of education programs targeted to the areas identified by key education agencies, the metro government, and workforce development allies. LFPL helps avoid unnecessary duplication of effort and optimizes use of resources. PLUS helps articulate how the library supports all schools and works hand in hand to improve literacy and educational attainment.
“Education is a means to security, safety, and prosperity for our community. Through the Cradle to Career pipeline and PLUS, the library, very intentionally, delivers educational programs, is systematic in the use of resources, and is deliberate in maintaining and building collaborative partnerships to ensure the success of all our residents,” Scoskie says.
LFPL “demonstrated how a library system can collaborate with other community entities in a broader regional strategic effort to advance a community shared goal…with an identifiable strategic role accepted by the community,” said Randall Reid, Southeast regional director/director of performance analytics, International City Management Association, and one of the award judges. Reid was “very impressed with the communitywide strategic vision and supporting metrics to monitor community progress and library programmatic success.”
Firing on all cylinders
Into this incredible engine of learning came James L. Blanton. A 2012 LJ Mover & Shaker, Blanton began at LFPL last August. He had directed the Daviess County Library in Owensboro, KY, since 2012. The LFPL post was vacated when Buthod retired.
“Mr. Blanton takes a broad approach to lifelong learning; his vision for Louisville is expansive and focused on innovation. He is the right leader to take our library network to a new level,” said Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, who also cited Blanton’s innovative approach to lifelong learning, including making libraries centers of knowledge.
“Julie Scoskie is absolutely fantastic,” Blanton told LJ enthusiastically. “She is as dynamic as you would imagine and is the driving force behind our efforts. Everything is firing on all cylinders here, and we want to keep that momentum going.”
LFPL will fill out that Cradle to Career pipeline, Blanton promises, adding, “Julie is a wonderful [coworker], and she is just as gung ho about programming as I am.”
LFPL and its innovative programs are promoted frequently on social media, local TV stations, do502.com, and in local newspapers, including full-page ads for the month leading up to Share a Story—part of national Make a Difference Day, a celebrity reader program at LFPL. In addition, a local TV station has committed to endorsing the importance of early literacy and LFPL throughout the year.
The library promotes its programs and services at all 18 of its locations, reaching some 10,000 people daily, at every socioeconomic level. Along with a strong online presence, including e-newsletters sent to 72,000 subscribers, information is delivered in LFPL’s bimonthly print newsletter to 16,000 readers.
Blanton started an “Epublish or Bust” program to help aspiring authors learn to self-publish. At LFPL, they can book appearances and upload their work into the library catalog.
“Louisville is such a creative community that we can expand those author programs into filmmaking and other artistic or literary expression. People can come into LFPL and learn how to make films,” says the new director. A horror movie that was made in Daviess County, with filmmakers teaming up with learners, has been shown in a Louisville theater.
“I feel like the treadmill was already set at eight when I arrived. We have 18 libraries now, and we are in the midst of building a new one,” Blanton says.
“The library helps connect what was once described as random acts of excellence,” says Scoskie. “LFPL reaches out to other organizations to offer support and to identify specific, attainable areas where library services will directly impact our community.”
LibraryAware Community Award 2016 Honorees
LJ would like to thank judges John Chrastka, EveryLibrary.org and a 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker; Amy Garmer, Aspen Institute; Gina Millsap, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, KS (a 2015 LibraryAware Community Award honoree); Randall Reid, ICMA;
and Lilly Weinberg, Knight Foundation, for their help in selecting this year’s honorees.
Linda Johnson, President & CEO
Anthony Marx, President & CEO
Bridget Quinn-Carey, Interim President
The LibraryAware Community Award often honors libraries that are deeply engaged with local government to meet common goals. In this case, the library had to do all that, plus coordinate major efforts, at scale, with two other systems. New York City’s three libraries—the New York Public Library (serving Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island), plus the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library—are jointly honored for their central role in the rollout of New York City’s idNYC. The municipal identification program offers photo identification to access needed services, including library cards, for those who can’t obtain a state driver’s license or passport, including teens, NYC’s estimated half a million undocumented immigrants, domestic violence survivors, and transgender New Yorkers whose gender assigned at birth does not match their gender identity, among others. To prevent any stigma for users, the program includes incentives for all New Yorkers to sign up.
Libraries were a key component of the implementation. Each library had to find a way for the ID to function as a library card with their different ILS, which judge Amy Garmer called “a pretty amazing feat.”
While enrollment was not conducted by library staff, the program was given dedicated permanent real estate in five key facilities. Each garnered long lines for weeks after the launch, till the city switched to an appointment system. Additional pop-up enrollment centers were established in 53 libraries for two to three months each. Of the three-quarters of a million New Yorkers who have so far signed up for an idNYC, the library system enrolled one-third—and two locations in Queens alone were responsible for ten percent. As waves of new visitors arrive at each library, the systems made sure to offer them displays of non-English-language books, homework help, and ELL and family literacy classes to make sure they put their new ID to both of its intended uses. Together, the three NYC systems are this year’s second place winner and will receive $7,500.
Between 2000 and 2014, Cranston, RI, saw a 37 percent increase in the number of residents speaking non-English languages in the home and a 44 percent increase in foreign-born residents. Luckily the Cranston Public Library (CPL), with a deep understanding of its community, was ahead of the curve: in 1999, CPL partnered with the then–newly created Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative (RIFLI) to offer free ELL and citizenship preparation classes at library locations, a collaboration that continues to this day.
Said judge Gina Millsap, CPL’s “timely and spot-on response to the flood of foreign-born residents shows how effective a public library can be when its goals are aligned with the most urgent needs of its community.” CPL continues to seek out partnerships to provide for future residents, including a recently forged alliance with the state’s largest men’s homeless shelter.
Far from resting on its laurels, in 2013, CPL enlisted two University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Library and Information Science interns to conduct a community needs assessment. The results identified seven primary community needs, for more hours, especially at branch locations; new materials; adult and adult evening programming; children’s programs and an improved children’s room at the Central Library; outreach and collaboration; computer and social media classes and a Maker space; and a designated quiet space. In the two years since, the library has made strides in addressing all of these key areas, and the results can be seen at the polls, where CPL in 2014 was approved for $1.2 million in municipal bond funds, despite competing bond questions from the local school system and department of parks and recreation. For its proactive community service, CPL is this year’s third place winner and will be awarded $5,000.—Meredith Schwartz