By Noah Kutz
It’s the Academy Awards of the library universe. The Tempe Public Library has become a finalist for the 2019 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s most prestigious recognition for public institutions that make extraordinary contributions to their communities. Tempe’s is the third library in Arizona to be nominated in 25 years, and the only institution in the state to be nominated this year.
In this race to be named the top-performing library or museum in America, candidates must showcase their innovative ways of bringing neighborhoods together in a world of declining reliance on community-based institutions.
Despite local communities having drifted toward e-books, social media and online connectivity, the Tempe Public Library—among the 29 other nationally recognized finalists—has taken a “swimming upstream” approach to impacting the community.
Programs such as the Dementia-Friendly Tempe/Memory Café, Learning Lab and Tempe Book Bike are ways that the city brought residents together over the last year.
Says Kathy Husser, a 30-plus year veteran librarian and deputy community services director:
“The biggest change for libraries today is their relevancy and having to meet so many needs for a very diverse population…Libraries now are almost a refuge for a lot of disenfranchised and underprivileged people.”
In order to stay relevant in their communities, libraries must adapt from their traditionally simple book-rental systems to being able to meet the various needs of large groups of people within the city.
How does one such institution fund all of these public programs? For the city of Tempe, its library is grateful for The Friends of Tempe Public Library who donate generously each year. Additionally, TPL incorporates innovative ways to raise money into its daily operations, such as the Connections Café, an in-house, self-sustaining entity that gathers enough revenue to help cover costs for improvements to the library.
TPL offers programs for tutoring children in grade school within its Learning Lab (founded by Friends of TPL), which includes programs such as “Sprouts” for math and reading, and AWE learning stations which contain computers with interactive learning games.
Children from preschool up until middle school can utilize the library’s Learning Lab to grow and enhance their academic abilities while having fun.
With these kinds of improvements to the library system, Tempe Public Library hopes to increase the connection between community members.
“The public library is the great equalizer for society,” says Husser. “No other entity offers something from babies to seniors on that kind of range seven days a week, and we welcome everybody.”
With a dream for museums and libraries to help transform the lives of people within every city, the Institute of Museum and Library Services hopes its members will grow continually with community outreach programs, and that individuals will find more ways to pay their local library a frequent visit.
To share personal stories about the ways that the community has become more connected through local libraries and museums, use #IMLSMedals on all social media platforms, and visit TempePublicLibrary.org for more information.