In Azusa, Calif., the library is working on a Grassroots ESL
(English as a Second Language) program, which will provide
language instruction with partner organizations throughout the
community, not just in a classroom. Similarly, the Free Library
of Philadelphia is seeking to work with nine community partners to integrate the library into the broader systems of workforce development and adult education. The Denver Public
Library, meanwhile, is developing programming for adults
experiencing homelessness and poverty.
OCLC is working on an interesting program to help small and
rural communities reimagine and reconfigure their library spaces
to support “participatory learning” and other programming. But
for me, the genius awards go to the Providence (R.I.) Public
Library for its LibraryU project, and the Brooklyn Public Library
for Bklyn Link. LibraryU is a workforce development program
will support 600 underserved teens, with learning opportunities,
digital credentials, academic credit, exposure to work, and entry
points into academic and career pathways. And in a low-income
Brooklyn, N. Y, neighborhood, Bklyn Link, will provide both free
broadband access and a technology-based fellowship program for
18-to-24-year-olds, who will actually install and maintain the
network. This is what the public library reinvented looks like.
So, what’s not included in this years round of grants? If you ask
public librarians what their greatest institutional challenge is,
many would say it’s that their library staff and leadership still
do not reflect the communities they serve. Yet there is only one
grant—and it’s for archival faculty—that addresses diversity.
Absent too is that old saw, information literacy—although
other types of literacies, especially digital literacy, do pop up.
Though several grants support UX (user experience), there’s also
no research into our users and the roles that libraries play—or
don’t play—in their lives. Have we given this research up to
Pew and OCLC?
And with the exception of the open source e-reader, SimplyE,
there is little mention of books and the experience of reading.
In fact, in reviewing the 2016 grants you would hardly know
that libraries are in the business of acquiring, sharing, and promoting discussion about books.
Is there really nothing left for us to learn to support the experience of reading? Is reading is no longer an action we as librarians are supposed to value? I applaud all the inventive ways
librarians are seeking to expand their roles in the community,
and the programs supported the IMLS are truly laudable and
innovative. But I’d also suggest that what libraries could really
use is a national reading platform that—like the IMLS’s goal of
a national digital platform—would connect and support the
myriad reading activities strewn across libraries, publishers, and
literacy advocates. ■
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PW contributing editor Brian Kenney is director of the White Plains (N. Y.) Public
Library and a former editorial director of Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.