Programming that supports English-language learning (ELL) is not new in the world of public libraries. Kenneth English, associate director of adult learning centers at the New York Public Library (NYPL), has seen “photos and notices from around 1920 promoting classes in Manhattan’s Lower East Side immigrant neighborhoods.” While ELL programming has existed for nearly 100 years, modern libraries continue to update their offerings to fit the needs of their communities. Innovative and traditional projects that are responsive to demographic shifts and capitalize on local people power are key to best serving library customers working on their English-language skills.
The San Diego Public Library is working to reduce local sex trafficking statistics with Out of the Shadows, a comprehensive sex trafficking awareness campaign. Out of the Shadows, funded by a $25,000 grant from the Rancho Santa Fe Women’s Fund matched with funds from the San Diego Library Foundation, began as training for the more than 800 staff members throughout the system’s 36 locations, providing information on how to recognize a possible victim of sex trafficking, ways to initiate a conversation, and appropriate resources and support services to offer those in need. Since its launch in August 2015, the campaign has expanded to include a teen peer advocate program and extensive community outreach.
Since the revelation that water in Flint, MI, is contaminated with toxic levels of lead, public and private institutions, individuals, and civic organizations have been stepping up to help across the country. In addition to the infrastructure changes that now need to be made to the city’s water system, much of the immediate relief effort centers around information: on health hazards, residents’ legal rights, and what the city needs to do going forward. The Flint Public Library (FPL) has positioned itself as a source of reliable information, and the remaining libraries in Flint’s public high schools have been instrumental in helping local teenagers better understand what their city is going through.
Last summer, Bloomberg BusinessWeek devoted an entire issue to “What Is Code?” a single article by Brooklyn-based writer and programmer Paul Ford. Ford’s breakdown of key concepts pulls back the curtain on the fundamentals of computer programming and makes a compelling argument that any smart person can learn the basics—and that the basics are worth learning even for those who aren’t planning to become professional coders. It is, in part, a case for coding as a new frontier in digital literacy. There’s a growing interest in this type of education among kids, teens, businesspeople, career changers, and the generally curious. And a growing number of public libraries are already responding to this need within their communities. Here’s a look at ways in which a few libraries have made their programs a success.
As part of its new BKLYN Incubator project, the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is inviting librarians from across the system to come up with creative new programming at their branches. With the help of a $25,000 Sparks Ignition Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), BPL has set up a framework for branch librarians to develop and promote their own ideas for programs and services—from an ethnic music performance venue in Coney Island to ballroom dancing for older adults in Carroll Gardens to a Russian literature club in Sheepshead Bay—and for their communities to help vote on the ones they want to see implemented.
In the midst of the ongoing international migration crisis, libraries worldwide are finding ways to support newly arriving refugees. Libraries across Europe are assisting the wave of newly arriving Syrian refugees, as illustrated by recent articles from Public Libraries Online and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). And they’re not alone: as cities in the US and Canada receive an influx of Middle Eastern refugees seeking asylum, libraries are using both traditional and innovative services to reach out and connect with these populations in crisis.
Chelsea Dodd remembers learning how to handle money at an early age but later seeing grown-up cousins and college roommates prove terrible with their finances. To her, launching a series of programs at the Montclair Public Library, NJ, felt just as core to her mission as a librarian as helping patrons locate reference titles. Getting people to attend? That was another story.
According to “Libraries at the Crossroads,” a recent Pew Research Center report on the public library habits of U.S. residents age 16 and older, over the past three years in-person library visits have waned slightly despite the public’s marked desire for new and improved library services. These findings, as John B. Horrigan, senior researcher at Pew, writes in his report, suggest that the library as an institution is “buffeted by cross currents.”