We face a cultural crisis that calls on all who care about creating an inclusive society. There is much to do. We must speak to the rise in unapologetic manifestations of hate during and after the presidential campaign, as reports by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center clearly illustrate.
In 2014, the American Community Survey reported that an estimated 19.4 million veterans were living in the United States. Libraries, both public and academic, are well positioned to serve the unique needs of this population by offering programming and meeting space, sharing veterans’ stories, and providing the community connections necessary to transition successfully from military to civilian life.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, an estimated 650,000 children in Uganda have been orphaned by AIDS. The majority of them are now cared for by their grandmothers. The adult literacy rate reported by UNESCO is 73.9 percent, and only 66.9 percent among women; these discrepancies are particularly acute in AIDS-affected populations. In an effort to address these issues, the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project (NAOP), a nonprofit working on behalf of AIDS and HIV orphans in rural Uganda, has recently established two libraries for HIV- and AIDS-affected communities with support from the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF), a Canada-based nonprofit.
Nearly nine out of ten adults have difficulty using health information, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This isn’t surprising—thanks to the open access movement, there are a plethora of reliable medical sources out there, but many are not written for a lay audience. Meanwhile, drug companies on the one hand and anti–traditional medicine advocates on the other flood the Internet with authoritative-sounding contradictory material.
The Johnson County Library, KS, hosted its first Debate Watch Party in 2012, but for the 2016 election the Library’s Civic Engagement Committee wanted to make sure the event was really memorable. On September 26, 2016, we watched the debate with 135 excited and engaged library patrons over pizza and popcorn. In order to make the event as robust as possible we created a more social feel: we had tables with table cloths set up cafe style to encourage interactions between patrons who might have differing views and interests. We provided live fact checking, debate bingo, and partnered with the League of Women Voters to help with on-site voter registration and information about the voting process.
The trend of circulating “stuff” other than books and DVDs is not new, but a few libraries have begun to embrace it more fully. For example, the “Library of Things” at Hillsboro Public Library, OR—inspired partly by tool libraries like Berkeley’s and the Library of Things at Sacramento Public Library, CA—offers patrons access to musical instruments, tools such as infrared thermometers and thermal leak detectors, gold panning kits, bakeware and kitchen appliances, karaoke machines, and even commercial-grade popcorn and cotton candy machines.
Melanie Colletti was on desk in the Denver Public Library’s (DPL) technology center when she recognized a woman at a computer who’d been a participant in the library’s “Free To Learn” job seekers program the previous year. “She seemed easily frustrated but very intelligent, and I was disappointed when she didn’t return for her third session,” says Colletti. She asked the woman how she was doing, and, to Colletti’s delight, the woman had used the résumé they’d worked on to get a job and had been employed ever since. “Even though it didn’t seem like we were connecting with her, I guess we were.”
Human-centered design, a highly creative approach to problem solving, is gaining popularity in libraries as they plan for what lies ahead. Also known as design thinking, it focuses on defining and then resolving concerns by paying attention to the needs, aspirations, and wishes of people—in the case of libraries, not only a library’s patrons but its staff, administration, and members of the community who may not be library customers…yet.