More Than a Library
It’s a common refrain — almost a cliché. Aren’t libraries becoming obsolete, with the Internet readily providing so much information that used to only be in physical books?
“We hear people say that a lot as library professionals,” laughs Amanda Donovan, Marketing and Communications Director for the Spokane Public Library. “We still check out books and materials, but people are learning that we are so much more than that now. We continue to reinvent ourselves to be a connector of people in Spokane.”
At Spokane Public Library, that means creating programming and resources that truly connect citizens to excellent education, culture, arts, experiences, and information that they would not otherwise have. It is a shifting role, but no less vital. In fact, with the veracity and quality of online information more questionable than ever, a great library system is perhaps becoming more important as it supports a well-informed, educated community.
For the library naysayers, it doesn’t take long to become converted. It only takes a short conversation with Donovan to understand what a 21st century library system looks like, and how it functions to improve a city.
One example she mentions is Lilac City Live — a monthly late-night-style talk show at the downtown branch that won the 2018 Top Innovator Award from the Urban Library Council. The format is nothing new: talk, musical guests, comedians, and interviews with local leaders and culture-makers — all in a fun, relaxed setting with local breweries and wineries serving up their best (to those of age). This local twist on a late-night TV mainstay has been a major success as it looks to support a city that is more vibrant, connected, and informed.
Ok, that sounds fun, says the Library Skeptic. But let’s get down to business: how does the Library provide information to help entrepreneurs and business owners?
Donovan is quick with a response. “We continue to build out capabilities and resources that the local business community benefits from. For instance, we have the Level Up Space, an expanded coworking space and business area. We have only the second Bloomberg Terminal in the U.S. in a public library — a computer system that offers real-time, cutting-edge financial data to the business community. We have a dedicated business Librarian, Mark Pond, who works tirelessly with the business community, teaching about the free resources and data available through the Library.”
Well, that’s great for business owners and professionals, says the Library Skeptic. But what does the Library offer to more marginalized or at-risk populations in Spokane?
This is where Donovan comes alive. She rattles off an ever-expanding host of programs and partnerships through which the Library is involved in lives being transformed in Spokane. The High School 21+ program is a partnership with the Community Colleges of Spokane, offering adults the ability to achieve the high school diploma they never finished. The library assists those experiencing homelessness, sharing activated library cards and resource guides in partnership with Giving Backpacks. There is youth outreach across the city’s neighborhoods, not only putting library cards in teenagers’ hands and offering access to a never-ending world of books, but also giving opportunities to build job skills, connect with different cultures, and build a bright future.
“The Spokane Public Library System is offering access to everyone that, in many settings, is only offered to a privileged few.”
Of course, that future starts early. The Library takes children’s literacy pretty seriously... to the point of not only offering storytime gatherings during the day and at “pajama time,” but even partnering with area hospitals through a new Books for Babies program.
“We are making sure that babies leave the hospital with a fun child literacy kit and an activated library card in their name, just a couple days after they are born,” says Donovan. “Not only does this promote reading for the child — it is also a way we remind parents that the Library is a resource for everyone.”
Okay, okay, that is pretty cool… two-day-olds with library cards, says the Library Skeptic. But how do we know Spokane’s Library is on par with the best in the country?
Now we’re just lobbing softballs that Donovan promptly knocks out of the park.
As it stands, the Spokane Public Library System was selected as a top 15 Library in the nation as a 2019 IMLS Medal Finalist. “It is really cool to see that the Institute of Museum and Library Services selected Spokane alongside libraries like the Los Angeles County Library,” says Donovan.
But that’s just the Library as it stands right now. At future.spokanelibrary.org, plans are detailed to build three new libraries and remodel four existing libraries through the $77 million bond voters approved in 2018.
The resources this upgrade will offer to anyone in the City of Spokane will be staggering, from recording studios for up-and-coming musicians and podcasters downtown, to 30,000 square feet of excellence at the Shadle branch, to an innovative shared facility with Shaw Middle School at the Hillyard branch, to a new maker space called The Hive in East Central — many of these efforts doubling down on an investment in young people and historically underserved populations. And this only scratches the surface. The Library has much, much more in the works.
Okay. I get it, says the Former Library Skeptic (and new Library Enthusiast). It’s sort of like enrolling in a great university: that moment when you realize your student ID card gives you resources and technology and facilities that you couldn’t even imagine.
“Yep. You’re describing our mission,” says Donovan. “The Spokane Public Library System is offering access to everyone that, in many settings, is only offered to a privileged few.”
photos courtesy of SPokane Public Library