Serving the Populace: The Role of Public Libraries

Every public library exists to serve its respective community. Not only by establishing a diverse collection of resources but also by providing a range of programs that benefit anyone interested. From children’s story hour to basic technology skills for adults and everything in between. These services have existed for decades because of community demand and necessity. In more recent years, the services needed have evolved, and libraries have responded. Outreach is a hugely important part of public libraries.

One of the main kinds of programs is continuing education. In libraries, you can learn new technology skills, work towards a GED, learn sign language, take an ESL course, and learn financial and digital literacy. Programs specifically designed for senior citizens are popular because of the new skills they learn and can use in their lives. A variety of other programs create social gatherings for seniors who might enjoy them.

Many people haven’t graduated from high school for a variety of reasons, so they must be able to pursue an alternative education when their lives allow for it. Public libraries often have or host these programs for free. They also provide study guides for placement tests and a multitude of educational resources.

Locals who struggle with English as a second language can also sign up to learn with others who are likely in similar circumstances. Citizenship classes and other resources for refugees to get the help they need. Some libraries, such as those in Ukraine, have become shelters too.

For children and young adults, they usually hire specially trained librarians who have experience with that age group and their needs. They teach specific classes in graduate schools to learn about being a children’s librarian. It’s not something most people just walk in off the street and hire in as. One of the most commonly known programs for children is the summer reading program. These keep kids reading and learning after the school year has ended. Story hours for the younger age groups are also popular. During the pandemic, children’s librarians used YouTube and Facebook live to continue providing story hour programming to the youngsters. Teen programs include things like financial literacy, life skills, reading programs, tutoring, mentoring, and checking out computers for homework use. Getting teens involved and appreciating what the library offers.

Reader advisory and reference are two major aspects of library service. Avid readers want to know where there are more books they might like, and many librarians are happy to oblige. Reference services encompass a multitude of things. From helping people with finding tax forms to creating a new email address for a patron and everything in between. This area of librarianship is my personal favorite and my focus when I was in graduate school.

Community support and interest groups often use libraries as a meeting place. The free rooms to sign out, and use of facilities with loads of parking make an ideal locale for small and large groups. Everything from AA to knitting circles can use a meeting room.

One of the annual events that every public library in the United States has is when tax season hits and everyone needs their forms. Libraries are one of the main places these forms are available, and librarians anticipate the rush of patrons needing to find their forms. Before

and after various elections, libraries also offer resources for helping make sense of things. Per the PLA website, “…libraries may be struggling to respond to the post-election challenges our communities face. Public libraries have an unparalleled ability to bring people and knowledge together, especially in times of uncertainty and division.” In the past several years, the need for this kind of assistance has been especially important.

Each library does things a little differently depending on budgets, staff abilities, and space available. The Public Library Association (PLA) has many tools on its website for quick reference and use of these programs. Librarians can use these resources as part of a program or refer someone for assistance.

Regardless of the size of the library, it’s remoteness, or budget patrons know they can use it for a multitude of things. From children’s programs to senior citizens learning to use a computer, public libraries are a vital asset to the world and the communities they serve.

By Gretchen Hendrick Gardella, MLIS

Gretchen Hendrick Gardella is a Librarian with administrative, research, and vast technical skills. Ms. Gardella brings over 16 years of experience working in academic and public libraries to the discussion.