BRINGING THE COMMUNITY TO THE LIBRARY
by Allison Fiscus, Adult Services Coordinator
Internet access – food availability – vaccine appointments – test kits – support for students and teachers – computer access for new benefits and programs – health screenings … the list of community needs that emerged during the pandemic has been extensive.
Since March 2020, the Library has taken quick action to help meet these immediate needs. From working with Connecting Kids to Meals to safely provide meals to students when schools were closed, to assisting customers in navigating the vaccination sign-up process, and to distributing almost 200,000 at-home COVID test kits, the Library has proudly and steadfastly served the community through every phase of the pandemic.
And while doing this work, an amazing dynamic has made us realize one of the true, untapped potentials of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library: access.
The Library has always strived to make our materials and information as accessible as possible. This remained unchanged during the pandemic as we created new and innovative ways to get materials to residents safely, helped more customers easily access digital books and materials from home, and expanded our technology resources.
What did change was the realization of just how powerful the concept of access could become. The Library welcomes almost 3 million customers per year and has some of the most conveniently located buildings in the community. With more than 1,000 open hours per week, we could build on the new access to services developed during the pandemic to become dynamic hubs of community resources – connecting customers directly with essential community service providers in sustainable, equitable, and transformative ways.
In early 2021, TLCPL set a strategic priority:
Serve as the go-to community connection and hub. Position the Library as the institution where community members turn when they want to engage one another or connect with vital community resources.
What does this look like in practice? It looks like community partners, in all of our 20 locations, providing direct access to essential services. It looks like a deliberate approach to Library partnership management that is equitable and quantitative. It looks like high-quality Library programs and classes that have the potential to improve both the individual and the community as a whole.
Mercy Health Community Nurses
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has identified the convenience of screening site locations and affordability as the two main reasons people do not participate in preventative health screenings. The NIH also states that health screenings are the most effective way to reduce the risk of developing a chronic disease. Given chronic disease’s personal and community impacts, increasing preventative health screenings is imperative.
Enter Mercy Health Community Nurses at TLCPL. The convenience of screening site locations? Problem solved with monthly health screening availability from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. at 10 Library locations. Affordability? Problem also solved with free blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight screenings from the community nurses as well as flu shots. No appointment is needed, and all services are first-come, first-served.
The Mercy Health Mobile Mammography Unit also visits Holland branch to ensure as many women as possible have access to this potentially life-saving screening.
“Mercy Health believes that health and wellness extend far beyond the walls of our clinical sites. Through this essential partnership with the Library, we can better serve our community by addressing health care access challenges in a proactive and meaningful way,” Bob Baxter, president of Mercy Health – Toledo, said.
Mercy Health has also offered wellness classes, provided extensive support for the Library’s Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library initiative, and welcomed the Ready to Read team into the neonatal intensive care unit.
Shots for Tots n Teens
With the Shots 4 Tots n Teens immunization program, the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department aims to increase the childhood immunization rate to 90% in Lucas County.
“Prior to COVID in our community, students that were entering kindergarten were over 90% vaccinated in 2019,” Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski said. “Because of COVID, that percentage fell to 76.6% in 2021.”
To increase access and remove barriers, trained nurses are now administering vital childhood immunizations at select Library locations.
“With our goal of making sure families have everything they need to help children succeed, hosting Shots 4 Tots n Teens in Library spaces is such a complement to our work,” Nancy Eames, TLCPL youth services coordinator, said. “We want all kids to have the healthiest possible foundation and are so glad that this new service will make it easier for families and caregivers to get the care their children need.”
Ohio Justice Bus
In partnership with the Toledo Bar Association and The Lucas County Law Library, the Ohio Justice Bus visits multiple Library locations to provide free consumer and family legal advice to anyone in need. People can talk privately to an attorney about issues such as debt, bankruptcy, custody, and divorce.
“Our goal is to fill gaps in legal services in areas with limited legal resources in Ohio,” Pro Bono Director for the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation Sophia Chang, Esq., said. “With the safety and convenience associated with the Library, this partnership increases access to those we want to serve.”
TRIO Educational Opportunity Center
“Adults seeking to continue their education can face numerous barriers and obstacles,” Brandon Gaddy, director of TRIO Programs at Owens Community College, said. “By bringing TRIO Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) resources to multiple Library locations, we hope to support more adults on their educational and job journeys.”
TRIO EOC is one of just eight national programs of its kind administered, funded, and implemented by the U.S. Department of Education to help low-income, first-generation, or otherwise underserved individuals access education. TRIO EOC serves as a one-stop shop for GED program referral; completing/processing college applications; completing FAFSA applications; student loan default resolution; financial literacy training; and career exploration.
Connecting Kids to Meals
About one in four children in Lucas County struggle with food insecurity, which is why Connecting Kids to Meals serves about 750,000 meals per year. It is also why the Library provides space at 14 locations for this crucial service.
“Not having enough healthy food can have serious implications for a kid’s physical and mental health, academic achievement, and future economic prosperity,” Wendi Huntley, Esq., president of Connecting Kids to Meals, said.
“Research shows an association between food insecurity and delayed development in young kids; risk of chronic illnesses like asthma and anemia; and behavioral problems like hyperactivity, anxiety, and aggression in school-age kids. We are so grateful that the Library provides the opportunity for so many kids to get hot meals in a safe, accessible, and judgment-free way.”
A partnership with TutorSmart allows first through eighth-grade students to receive free, intensive in-person tutoring in math and reading at all 20 Library locations. During summer 2022, with 428 students enrolled, the average learning gap closure in math was 6.6 months, and for reading it was 7.8 months – essentially eliminating the pandemic learning loss.
“These results are so exciting,” Lauren Boeke, TLCPL assistant youth services coordinator, said. “As students returned to in-person learning, there were funding opportunities to try to help students recover lost learning. As we began to apply for funding, we met the folks at TutorSmart. We quickly decided they were the experts in tutoring and that we could partner to make sure their results-based efforts were available to students across the community instead of pursuing our own program.”
Students enrolled in TutorSmart attend one-hour after-school tutoring sessions Monday through Thursday, where they get individualized instruction and homework help.
“Students are tired at the end of a long school day. At TutorSmart, we understand that and have built an approach to keep things moving for optimal results,” Tiffany Adamski, TutorSmart executive director, said. “We provide data-driven, individualized tutoring where students work in small groups on standards they need to master. Then we make sure they are ready for the next school day with homework help.”
Programs from the community
The Library has also revamped how we approach programming with centralized planning that allows children and adults to develop new skills or an opportunity to try something that might otherwise be inaccessible. Utilizing our area’s local talent, external presenters teach everything from jewelry making to kombucha brewing and sign language basics. Owens Community College teaches free classes on topics like cybersecurity and photography. When possible, we also utilize the expertise of our staff, an excellent example of which is the outreach of our Small Business and Nonprofit Services Department at several branches so that one-to-one small business help is easy to reach.
The “Better Toledo: A Series” focuses on wellness, leadership, EDI, and more and is geared toward developing up-and-coming leaders throughout Toledo and Lucas County. By tapping into well-established partnerships and experts, our community hub approach has created the chance for participants to learn the skills necessary to better themselves and our community, while offering our partners an opportunity to share their expertise.
The topics range from allyship to meditation to emotional intelligence. The courses are for anyone interested in attending, however, there is particular emphasis placed on connecting with employers so they can give their employees access to the development necessary to foster a more inclusive and robust work environment. Classes occur on the first and third Thursdays of each month.
In early 2023, as part of the work of the Greater Toledo Digital Equity Coalition, the Library will institute a new system for computer and consumer technology instruction called Northstar Digital Literacy. Available via the Library’s website for self-guided use, Northstar is a curriculum to assess and teach technology skills. The system will also be used for teaching classes as well as drop-in, one-to-one assistance.
And there’s more!
It doesn’t end here. We are continuing to lead the way on systemic change and access in our region with new and ongoing partnerships, including:
Imagination Library: In 2021, the Library became the official Lucas County partner for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. All children under the age of 5 can be registered at any Library location to have one free book per month mailed directly to their home.
Lucas County Auditor: In partnership with the Lucas County Auditor and Lucas County Canine Care and Control, all Library locations serve as dog license and dog license renewal sites.
Ohio Public Libraries Partnership: Through a partnership among Ohio public, university, and college libraries, TLCPL offers Search Ohio and OhioLINK, which allow Library customers to access over 16 million items in 45 other member public libraries, and an additional 44 million items at 117 college and university libraries.
Owens Community College and Penta Career Center: Owens Community College and PENTA Career Center provide in-person GED, HSE, and ESOL courses at 14 Library locations.
Read for Literacy: Read for Literacy has permanent office space in Main Library. They also have volunteers throughout Library locations to provide reading support for children and tutors for adults to increase their reading, writing, and conversation skills – elevating TLCPL into a hub for literacy development.
Toledo Rotary Club: Toledo Rotary has found an accessible gathering space at Main Library to conduct their weekly member meetings as one of the 20th largest Rotary Clubs in the world.
Welcome TLC: In 2019, the Lucas County Commissioners transitioned Welcome TLC, a network of community organizations that work to create inclusive communities for immigrants and refugees, to the Library. Since then, the Library has developed a New American Services department led by a New American Services Librarian and brought the City of Toledo into the fold.
A Way Forward
With the last two years of change and growth, the Library is now better prepared to support Toledo and Lucas County citizens when needs arise and do so with the surety of experience. With the help of dedicated community partners, the Library has a proactive path forward in our goal to be a source of connection and growth for all.
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