Public Libraries – An Essential Tool for Community Building in the U.S.

Public Libraries – An Essential Tool for Community Building in the U.S.

“Libraries really are the gates to the future.” – Neil Gaiman, Author

Walls full of bookshelves, a librarian issuing books, and people reading in complete silence are the images you see when someone says the word library. However, public libraries in the U.S. serve the role of the third space.

What is a third space? This is a location where people gather, exchange ideas, and build relationships. Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term.

In the next five minutes, learn all about how public libraries help to build communities, and what Americans think of the libraries.     

Promoting Literacy

The American Library Association (ALA) confirms that 32 million U.S. adults cannot read. Furthermore, 19% of high school graduates cannot read.

Public libraries offer the solution. The libraries offer three education programs for adults — Adult Basic Education (ABE), Adult Secondary Education (ASE), and English Language Learning (ELL). 

The Adult Basic Education program focuses on giving elementary-level education, so that adults learn social, computational, and communicative skills.

The Adult Secondary Education program is designed for adults with literary skills of grade 9 and higher. Adults who never finished high school, or want credentials equivalent to high school can enroll in this program as well. 

Want to improve your English reading and writing skills? Enroll in the English Language Learning program. Your English listening and speaking skills will improve as well.     

Public libraries also offer computer classes. People can learn how to create an email account, and how to search the internet. Common programs including Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel are also taught. 

Public libraries often host parent-child story hours. Learn rhymes, finger plays, and songs to teach your toddlers. 

Elementary school children can participate in storytelling and read-aloud sessions. Children present and discuss stories selected by the instructor.

Public libraries also host group activities including puppet shows, arts and crafts, and watching movies.    

Free Computer and Internet Access

98.9% of all public libraries offer free access to computers and the internet as of 2021. This number translates to 15,824 public libraries.

People use the free internet and computers to research health information, enroll in distance-learning and online courses, and search for information about government services.

44% of the people living below the federal poverty line use the computers and internet that libraries offer.

Helping the Homeless

Public libraries offer shelter for homeless people in extreme weather conditions. The library staff also informs them about food and housing in the area.

Libraries offer help in making resumes and sending out job applications.

The Coffee and Conversation program welcomes the homeless with free coffee and cookies, while the staff informs them about library programs. What’s better than a chat to reduce social isolation?  

Public libraries host card games and board games, and people can enroll in free classes to learn a musical instrument.

Public libraries, including the Dallas library, show classic movies on the first and third Thursdays of each month.

Support to Immigrants

Public libraries offer ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) programs. Immigrants can receive free citizenship classes as well. In the classes, immigrants learn about the American government and history.

Furthermore, libraries invite U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers to visit the citizenship classes each semester. The officers help attendees answer questions about the naturalization process.

Immigrants must go through the naturalization process to become U.S. citizens. 

The Hartford Public Library in Connecticut offers The American Place (TAP) program. This program teaches English language and citizenship classes. The program allows immigrants access to an after-school English academy.

Healthcare Information

Imagine this scenario: You want to check your blood pressure, so you hop onto your car and go to the library instead of a clinic.

Sound like a tale? It’s not. Public libraries in the U.S. offer the service. Furthermore, libraries partner with health centers and local hospitals to host health programs. The health programs include sessions on Ebola and cancer, and prenatal classes.

Public libraries also offer family-building programs for those in the LGBTQ+ community.

The Queens library employs two full-time staff with public health backgrounds. Furthermore, the library partnered with a local Planned Parenthood affiliate. The program aims to train the library staff to answer reproductive health questions.

Public libraries in Philadelphia partnered with the University of Pennsylvania. The program trains library staff as community health specialists. 

Furthermore, the National Library of Medicine hosts training sessions and webinars with local libraries. The sessions train the library staff to answer questions on mental health and substance abuse.    

Assistance During Natural Disasters

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded streets, tunnels, and subways in New York City. Public libraries in New York and New Jersey offered shelter to people who were then able to use the library’s internet connection to contact their friends and family.

Libraries also allowed people to use computers to submit federal forms, like insurance claims and disaster relief forms. Additionally, people were able to charge their electronic devices and use restrooms.

Offering Meeting Spaces

Public libraries organize book club sessions. What’s a better place to discuss a book than a library, right?

People can gather around to discuss classes and concerts as well. Sometimes, companies even choose public libraries to conduct interviews.

Americans and Public Libraries

90% of Americans aged 16 and older believe that if their local public library closed, it would have an impact on the community. The data comes from a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

The positive approach further helps public libraries play their role in building the community. Find the public library in your area, and put it to use. You will quickly discover that it has far more to offer than just books.

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