Librarians: The Visionaries and Appreciators in Our Neighborhoods

As a young child, Fred frequently visited the Latrobe library to find interesting books and to see Aunt Sara. Aunt Sara was the librarian. Every child who visited called librarian Sara McComb “Aunt Sara” because she knew and appreciated everyone who came in. Libraries were important to Fred, and they continue to be great partners to the Fred Rogers Center. He spoke of this wonderful relationship in 1991 at the American Library Association Conference:

I know she knew every kid and what we were interested in and what books and magazines had just come in that might need our attention. Aunt Sara McComb was an “Appreciator.” You could tell she liked books – often by the way she held them. At times it looked like she was even hugging a certain favorite she was about to offer to you. And what’s more you could tell she liked you. Somehow you could just tell.

Visit any neighborhood library today and you’ll find a vibrant and engaging space buzzing with activity. People of all ages are talking, sharing, and enjoying one another at these community spaces. It is no longer appropriate to “shush” in the library – except in the designated quiet areas. Just as in Fred’s day, librarians continue to appreciate their patrons, as well as the print and digital media that are available. They nurture community-wide relationships.

And not only are they appreciators, they are visionaries and innovators. Libraries and librarians continue to meet the needs of communities by providing programming to help people find jobs, to build literacy skills, and to keep kids learning after school. Librarians also find new ways to connect people within and between communities. Many libraries provide outreach services through bookmobiles and mobile programming at senior centers, public housing, schools, preschools, and childcares.

Libraries now lend out so much more than just books, movies, and music. In Pennsylvania, Allegheny County libraries lend historical American Girl dolls along with books and historical information from the Heinz History Center. Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe lends games, toys, and other educational materials to families and teachers. Libraries in Hartford County, Maryland, lend iPads minis with age-appropriate apps to families with preschoolers. And all of this innovative borrowing is free—with a valid library card, of course!

Libraries are often places where community members can use computers and search the Internet. Many libraries now offer classes on computer skills and smartphone usage. One library in Central Pennsylvania even has a “tech bar” where library patrons can try out many of the current mobile devices and schedule time to meet with a librarian to learn more about the devices.

Librarians are also open to community collaborations. The opportunity to talk with librarians and have partnerships on projects helps to meet the needs of their communities and to deliver better services. Recently, the Fred Rogers Center had the great opportunity to connect with Allegheny County Library Association in Southwestern Pennsylvania to develop and pilot “Checkout Tech” kits. These kits offer early childhood educators an opportunity to borrow traditional educational materials (books, manipulatives, and activity suggestions) alongside technology tools (iPads) with preloaded age-appropriate apps and resources. The partnership has been invaluable in trying to meet the accessibility needs of early educators and to help bridge the digital divide. Westmoreland Library Network also joined in this initiative, beginning with branches in Latrobe (Aunt Sara’s library and Fred’s first neighborhood) and nearby Ligonier. Because of the collaborative nature of librarians and their openness to new information, I have worked with and trained librarians from as far away as California and Alaska. We share a strong desire to exchange ideas and ensure that the needs of our community members are being met.

Back in Latrobe at Adams Memorial Library, the spirit of Aunt Sara is still very present. Her photo hangs in the library, overseeing and appreciating the work of the librarians. Librarians know their patrons, especially the kids who come in every day after school to work on the computers, read a new book, or simply have a safe place to be. Thank you to Aunt Sara and all of the librarians who make the world a warm, welcoming, innovative, and appreciative place.

If you have not visited your neighborhood library recently, stop by and check it out. You will be surprised by all of the things you’ll find there.

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