Everyday superheroes: How librarians are making a difference in their communities

librarians are making a difference in their communities

In the current digital age, it’s easy to overlook the importance of librarians, but they are some of the most passionate, dedicated, and hardworking people in our communities. They play a vital role in ensuring that everyone has access to information and often serve as teachers, research assistants and social workers.

As Leslie Burger, interim executive director of the American Library Association, wrote in the ALA's 2024 State of America's Libraries Report:

It’s heartening to find library workers doing amazing work even as they face a barrage of challenges. Libraries have always been magical places, filled with stories, hopes, and dreams. Library workers are the magicians who create that magic.

Library workers promote public health and well-being while also being purveyors of information, and they strive to better communities by building library programs and initiatives to address local needs. 

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What role does today's librarian play?


The integration of modern technology into public libraries has not eliminated the need for librarians; rather, it has forced them to adapt, taking on new and unexpected roles, such as building personal protective equipment for healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abrupt changes in external circumstances like the pandemic and increased expectations of technological know-how highlight a librarian’s resilience and adaptability at both the neighborhood and government levels. 

Leaders in the community

Librarians are responsible for acquiring, organizing, preserving, and providing access to modern, often high-tech, information resources, as well as promoting media literacy.

But they are also leaders within the community, recognizing its needs and striving to find resources such as library grants and other funding to implement solutions. Many do this with no formal leadership training or professional business experience. 

Community-building at the public library 

Library staffers also serve as social workers. Many times, a librarian is the first point of contact for community members experiencing homelessness or struggling with addiction. They seek ways to demonstrate compassion and connect these individuals with traditional and online services to help them get back on their feet. 

From story times for young children to summer reading programs for elementary-school students and computer-skills classes for seniors, a public library offers a variety of educational programs for patrons of all ages, many of which are designed to improve literacy rates.

A librarian is often responsible for developing the curricula for these programs, selecting materials, and even teaching the classes. They also serve as research assistants, helping library patrons find reliable information for school papers or work projects. 

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Libraries serve as a support system

Public libraries aren’t just places to check out books; they’re also community centers. Libraries provide access to information, perhaps to outside resources that incorporate content from thousands of publications from around the world, and they also serve as a support system in many communities.

Many libraries offer materials for job seekers or those wanting to start their own business.

In its State of America's Libraries Report, the ALA cites figures from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which reports that there are 33.3 million small businesses in the United States,
accounting for 99.9% of all U.S. businesses and nearly half of the country’s workforce.

"Small business is big business in America," the ALA notes, "and libraries are making an investment in their future" by supporting small businesses and budding entrepreneurs with everything from pop-up
marketplaces to intellectual property and patent guidance.

Diversity at the library


Libraries support diversity by helping new immigrants become citizens, for instance, and by acting as inclusive spaces for community celebration. A large number of libraries host cultural workshops and programs that showcase the traditions, art, music and literature of various cultures. Invite local artists, authors and performers from different backgrounds to participate.

Building an inclusive collection

It's important for librarians to build an inclusive collection that reflects the diversity of the library's users. They can do so by acquiring books and other materials that represent a broad range of cultures and perspectives, and by offering digital resources in multiple languages to serve the reading needs of a linguistically diverse community.

PressReader is a great example; with thousands of publications from over 120 countries in more than 60 different languages, it allows users to read their favorite content from home and from around the world.

Author talks and "living library" events

Organize author talks and panel discussions featuring writers from diverse backgrounds. This can provide insights into different cultures and foster a sense of belonging and of understanding.

Libraries can tap into the knowledge and lived experience of their patrons by hosting a "living library" event, such as the type presented by the Human Library Organization. Talking to folks from various walks of life is a great way to build bridges between community members, challenge ourselves and shatter stereotypes.

Librarians as community leaders 

Library staff must work with government officials at all levels to ensure that their libraries are adequately funded and that resources are available to provide quality services to the community. They promote public health by sharing knowledge on a number of topics — nutrition, physical activity, and mental health issues being just a few examples.

By identifying unique needs and developing complementary programming, librarians help create stronger communities. 

Yuliana Aceves, for example, led virtual programs during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep her Arlington, Texas, neighborhood engaged and helped implement the “Stories to Our Children” program, which allows parents to share their heritage and culture in a unique way.

Jenn Bacall introduced low-income children in Houston to the library through recreational activities like skateboarding, while Tammi Moe works to broaden her library’s reach within the Indigenous American community in Gallup, New Mexico. 

And, as the ALA noted in its 2024 State of America's Libraries Report:

Many libraries across the country are helping to address food insecurity by installing community fridges stocked with fresh foods and perishables with the goal of nourishing their neighborhoods and reducing the stigma around food assistance

Acknowledgment goes a long way 


Being a librarian is a full-time job, yet much that these individuals do in their communities often goes unnoticed. Finding and nominating a librarian for a local, national, or international award is one way of showing thanks for their many efforts. 

The following organizations offer awards to recognize librarians and the important role they play. For local alternatives, search organizations within your state or county that honor librarians or those committed to community work. 

Building community, one step at a time 

Librarians wear many hats, from educators to social workers to technology experts. For many libraries, the funding required to meet their users' needs is difficult to secure. This forces library staff to be innovative as well as receptive to creative approaches, even when it means more work on their part. From story time to community events, librarians put their mark on all they touch. 

Librarians play an essential role in the life of the community. The next time you visit your library, be sure to thank the staff for all they do. Along with offering personal thanks, consider nominating them for an award. Their commitment to community diversity and their continued efforts to serve others deserve to be recognized. 

PressReader provides searchable, up-to-date editorial content from around the globe. Learn more about how this service can be integrated into local libraries

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