Report showcases how libraries stay vital to their communities

“Lives change @ your Library” is the official theme for this year’s National Library Week. To kick off the event, on Monday, April 14, the American Library Association (ALA) released its “2014 State of America’s Libraries Report.” The 79-page report covers all things “library,” including politics, technology, laws, and even architecture.

But maybe the most important news – and a top priority of the ALA – is how libraries are transforming in order to remain vital and integral to their communities. Many of today’s public libraries are more than just warehouses of books and information. They are focusing on how to serve and provide for the ever-changing needs of society.

Before the Affordable Healthcare Act rolled out last fall, the federal government enlisted 17,000 public libraries across the country to help provide information to the public concerning the new health insurance options. Librarians were instructed on how to help patrons find the resources they needed to sign up for coverage. The Westchester Library system in New York held meetings to explain the new laws to small business owners.

Public libraries provide assistance where it is needed in other ways as well. Public libraries in San Francisco are serving their homeless population with an outreach program. The staff is comprised of a psychiatric social worker (employed full-time) and five peer counselors – who were all once homeless themselves. New York Public Library branches in underserved neighborhoods have installed programs to combat poverty and promote education by providing social and academic support to at-risk children in grades 8 through 12.

At the Lopez Island Library in Washington, students can check out musical instruments, while the Northern Onondaga library in New York actually lends plots of land to patrons for the purpose of learning organic gardening techniques.

Family Place Libraries is a national organization that is now in about 435 libraries across 25 states with the goal of turning libraries into early learning environments for young children. In addition to helping to build a foundation for learning, the program also provides resources and community support for educators, family services providers, and community agencies.

As the popularity of ebooks has increased, the US library system has seen its share of obstacles in its path to catering to the new trend. The good news is that in 2013, all five major publishers are onboard with library ebook lending for the first time. While there are still issues with availability and prices, this is a huge step in the right direction for libraries.

Another breakthrough on the technology front was made for the benefit of the blind and disabled. A service provided by the Library of Congress will enable them to download braille and audio books to their electronic device. It is a free service through local cooperating libraries.

Today’s libraries must be proactive and responsive to the unique needs and changes of the communities that they serve. They are an active partner in community development, unity, and quality of life.