7 Cool Things Libraries Are Doing, Beyond the Books

Emily Stochl

Staff Writer

Emily is a proud Midwesterner, living in Iowa. Reading literary fiction has always been her favorite. She also enjoys yoga and tending to her hundreds of houseplants -- you might say Emily is a bit “crunchy granola." She is the producer and host of a podcast about vintage and second-hand style, called Pre-Loved Podcast. She’s really into sustainability, and old things! IG: @emilymstochl

Libraries are awesome, don’t you agree? I recently watched this video by Ariel Bisset about What Librarians Wish You Knew About Libraries, and it inspired me to go on a deep-dive into the cool work of libraries, even beyond the books! There are so many cool library initiatives in this world, but today I’m sharing seven cool initiatives I found and love.

Libraries Hiring Social Workers

Libraries serve the critical needs of community members, and so many libraries have started to hire social workers to best serve their constituents. The Queens Public Library in New York has a government-funded social work program, which can help residents apply for jobs, study for the GED, or help low-income kids get excited about reading. Because—according to The Social Order—nearly half of Queens residents are foreign-born, one of the most practical services the library social worker team offers is English language learning services. Libraries have always been a staple for helping community members better their lives, and these new programs are the next natural iteration of this work.

Libraries Preserve History, Culture, and Genealogy

The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Library in Sequim, Washington, preserves the history of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. According to The Sequim Gazette, “there are collections on history, basketry, ethnobotany, canoes/kayaks, genealogy, fiction by Native American writers, traditional arts and crafts, and graphic novels by Native American artists, plus sections for children and young adults.” The library also has a digital museum, so the Tribal community can access library resources online from anywhere.

Libraries are a Catalyst for the Local Community

Who knows the local community better than librarians who serve a cross-section of local constituents every single day? According to Publishers Weekly, the New Haven Free Public Library underwent an in-depth community needs assessment to develop its strategic plan for the years 2018–2023.  This put “community-centric” needs at the forefront of the plan, including goals such as: “teach practical skills, facilitate economic and career success, build an innovative and creative city, and welcome newcomers and help them adapt,” among others.

Libraries Provide a Safe Place to Hold LGBTQ Resources and Serve the LGBTQ Community

The Gulfport Florida Public Library LGBTQ Resource Center is the one-of-a-kind in Florida. Among myriad amazing programming, the center provides a welcoming and safe space for LGBTQ community members, shares advocacy resources, hosts art shows and film series to showcase LGBTQ works, and provides a scholarship for LGBTQ youth.

Libraries Raise Awareness on Environmental Issues

My hometown library, the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, received the highest certification for green standards and uses its LEED Platinum Certification as an environmental educational tool. The library has a  24,000-square-foot green roof—full of native plants—with massive ducts to harvest rainwater and prevent run-off. The goal is for the library roof to harvest 100% of the rainfall that touches the roof surface. The library also utilizes green HVAC systems, daylight harvesting techniques, and solar light tubes among other environmentally-friendly technologies.

Libraries Work Hard to Make Materials Widely Accessible

The Georgetown Public Library in Georgetown, Texas, built a WOW!mobile (“Words on Wheels” bookmobile) to bring library resources to constituents who may have a difficult time getting to the physical library. The bookmobile serves seniors, residents with limited mobility, and children and teens alike.

Libraries Help Immigrants Earn Citizenship

The San Francisco Public Library is known for their “All Are Welcome” initiative, which helps immigrants feel comfortable settling in the United States. As part of the program, librarians help immigrant residents learn or improve their English skills, and prepare for the long path to citizenship. The library provides resources to help study for the naturalization exam, and civics questions from the test translated into six different languages. It also provides a guide for contacting your elected representatives, and other helpful resources to help newcomers understand the civics system.

These are only seven of the coolest initiatives I found online, but libraries across the country are doing awesome things to serve constituents—way beyond providing valuable books and educational materials every day.

For more on libraries, check out this post on unexpected things you can check out from the library. Give your local public librarian a hug from me!