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Showing Love for Our Libraries

Love is in the air! It’s February, y’all.  The month we celebrate Black History Month, although that’s 365, and then there’s Valentine’s Day.  February is also National Library Lovers Month.  It’s a month-long celebration of school, public, and private libraries and the perfect time to recognize the value of libraries and the work they do in serving our communities. 

I’ve loved reading since I was a kid, and my mom taking me to the library after school was a highlight of my week.  Even now, at almost 50 years old, I still love going to the library.  Sure, I can access whatever I want to read via digital library or reading apps, but for me, there are times when I like turning the pages versus swiping.  Going to the library feels like home to me. It’s comforting. I love the smell, and the books are neatly organized on the shelves.  I love the natural light coming in from the windows. I love the quiet. It’s just so peaceful.  Can you tell I am a proud card-carrying library member? 

Libraries got their start very early and have been around for centuries. The library’s role is essential in local communities by providing access to information and resources.  Andrew Carnegie, a philanthropist, thought it so essential that he donated 60 million dollars in the early 20th century to open more than 1,689 public libraries worldwide. Libraries are a community gathering space, connecting people to information and connecting people to people. 

One person who’s helping to connect people and communities through library services is Jasmine McNeil.  Jasmine is an Outreach Specialist for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.  She does not work at an actual branch, although every branch does some level of outreach; she works at the Library Administration Center in Charlotte, N.C.  Her job is to bring library services to the communities, typically focusing on marginalized communities that do not have access to libraries for whatever reason.  Her department is comprised of 10 staff, and they all have different focus areas, from providing services to schools and senior living facilities to inmates in jail.  

In hearing Jasmine speak, I get a sense of pride and passion for what she does and how libraries benefit the communities. Jasmine typically works with school-age children, so most of her partnerships are within Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and through communities in schools.  She provides literacy programs, but she has the perspective of providing for the entire family, meaning she tries to connect and provide resources for the parents as well, even though she doesn’t see them. In 2016, Jasmine created a program called, Reading in Color.  It started out as a weekly book club with six fifth-grade girls at an inner-city elementary school.  It was created to promote diverse characters in a positive light, to connect with reluctant readers, and to increase literacy skills in students that were behind.  As the program grew, so did its popularity and the number of schools’ requests for the program.  In 2019, Reading in Color won the Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance Award for “Best Mentoring Collaboration” for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Communities in Schools. 

She spoke about everything shutting down during the height of the pandemic and how they had to quickly pivot and think outside the box to reach their customers differently.  She said their digital resources and programming really boomed during that time.  I asked how libraries remain relevant in a digital age, and her first response was that I’d be surprised at how many people prefer print materials over e-Books. 

MoLi the Mobile Library

She believes their mobile library pushed over 10,000 circulating books last month, but it’s not just borrowing books.  People can rent space and hold meetings.  It’s a place for early voting. Students can reserve a study room, etc.  Plus, so many free digital resources are available to the community that wouldn’t otherwise be free.  One such resource is www.tutor.com, which is an online tutoring program where children can receive help after school.  Students can access a live tutor and get help with their homework.  It’s also available for college students, where they can submit their essays or resume and receive feedback.  Everything is free through the library with a library card, but if you go through the actual website, there is a cost.  She strongly believes that the library’s services and meeting the needs of the community are what keep libraries so relevant. 

Jasmine said, “Mecklenburg County Libraries have a lot going on this month, and to visit their website, www.cmlibrary.org, for all events.”  Specifically, she mentioned their 3rd Annual Celebration of the National African American Read-In. It was established in 1990 by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month.  Jasmine is hosting this event on Saturday, February 18th, at Sugar Creek Charter Elementary. There is something for everyone, from preschool to parents/caregivers.  There will be live performances, workshops, and food, and it’s free to the public.  

If you haven’t stepped inside of a library in a while, go show some love by visiting your local branch and take your little ones with you.  Help them find a good book, and maybe you’ll find one too.  Peace and library love.  

 

 

Article Written by: Janet DownsJanet Downs is an instructor with over 20 years of experience, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. She volunteers and is a resource for the homeless community and is working towards starting her own non-profit. She’s passionate about mental health and seeks to bring more awareness to the black community. She is active in church ministry, a writer, and loves music, hiking, and travel.

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