You won't reach a librarian by dialing 9-1-1, but that doesn't mean the services public libraries provide aren't essential to their communities.
Communities need to put out fires and respond to crimes. They also need to provide education, workforce development and avenues for civic engagement. Public libraries play a crucial role in these essential areas.
Public libraries are educational institutions that provide learning opportunities from the cradle to the grave, but they lead the way in the areas of early literacy, homework help and summer learning.
At the Lexington Public Library, about 700 students receive face-to-face homework help at the Village Branch every month and we provide another 400 students throughout the community with one-on-one help online through Live Homework Help.
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We teach preschool story-time classes, with a schedule that includes evenings and weekends. We also bring story-time classes to daycares and preschools with Storytime-to-go, a retrofitted RV that travels to six daycares a week. And every summer, almost 15,000 children read and learn with us as part of the Summer Reading Program.
Public libraries also play an important role in workforce development, providing computer training and assistance with resumes, job searches and online job applications. At the Lexington Public Library alone, more than 3,000 people receive computer training each year, and we offer weekly programs to help with resumes and job applications.
Reading generally is considered a private activity, but reading also is associated with increased social and civic engagement. It might come as a surprise, but if you want to get a community more physically active, more likely to attend local events, and more likely to participate in the political process, then you should get your community reading.
At the Lexington Public Library, we've just exceeded 3 million in annual checkouts for the first time. In addition to books, we provide cultural programs, an art gallery, the Farish Theater, and community meeting spaces that help make us one of the most public of public institutions. If you want to bump into your neighbors, the library is a good place to start.
None of this happens in a vacuum. Public libraries accomplish as much as they do because they make good partners. At the Lexington Public Library, we work closely with the Fayette County Public Schools and other local schools and colleges, local businesses like Community Trust Bank, community agencies like United Way of the Bluegrass, and a host of volunteers who work as tutors, storytellers and Book Buddies to the homebound.
But there's another reason for our success: adequate funding. At the Lexington Public Library, we're funded by one of the lower tax rates in Kentucky (the lowest allowed by state law for a city our size), but it wasn't until that level of funding was secured that we could begin to make the long-range plans needed to become the library system we are today.
We've also looked to the community for private support with the establishment of the Library Foundation, which has now taken up the challenge of helping us make our soon-to-be new branch off Palumbo Drive as vibrant an educational and community center as possible.
I'm proud of what the Lexington Public Library has accomplished, but it's all in a day's work. Public libraries all across Kentucky are doing for their communities many of the same things we're doing for ours.
Libraries have changed more in the last two decades than in the entire century before.
In Kentucky, public libraries have responded with updated facilities and services alongside the traditional services that continue to be important. Without adequate funding, the state's libraries could not have done it. They have for years supported their communities and now they need their communities to continue to support them.
If there's a fire, call 9-1-1. But if you want a community that is educated, upwardly mobile and civically engaged, call a public library.