Guest Commentary: Advocacy using the five E’s

Published 6:30 am Saturday, March 20, 2021

By Julie Clinefelter

Executive Director Austin Public Library

The events of 2020 required the library to reflect and reevaluate all the ways we work to serve the community of Austin. The twenty-first-century library is more than just books. Historically, times of crisis and economic uncertainty increase library usage. As community members tighten their belts at home and community organization budgets shrink, people rely on the library to fill the gaps.

As we move into 2021 and beyond, we want to define the ways the Austin Public Library supports our community and share what exactly the library can do for you. We feel the library’s vision can best be realized in five key areas, which we have labeled “The Five E’s”:

Education

More than ever, the library card is an essential resource for students, families and teachers. Our educated staff, early childhood education programs, Summer Reading Club, 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, storytimes, and diverse materials collections serve children and families in our community. Education does not end with the classroom (physical or virtual). Lifelong learning is the core of everything the library does from personal interactions to materials selection to programming.

Equity

The library staff offer programming, a Social Justice book club and materials selected specifically to address and promote discussion of racial equity and anti-racism. The library wi-fi and hotspot program are digital lifelines for community members who need access to computers and the internet to navigate every aspect of modern life – particularly during a pandemic:  schoolwork, medical and public health needs, news and information, banking and finance, job seeking and training, entertainment, social connection, voter registration, census participation, and more.

Engagement

Author and sociologist Eric Klinenberg encourages us to talk about ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing’ because social connection is more vital than ever. In response to COVID, the library staff have brought people together for online storytimes, book clubs and workshops – vitally important services to battle social isolation – and has maintained telephone contact and reference services for its patrons throughout the pandemic.

Empowerment

For years the library has been a trusted resource for residents who seek space, services and staff to help them prepare resumes, learn new skills, apply for jobs, and navigate a technology-rich economy. It has also provided a place for those reentering the workforce following release from correctional facilities, recovery from medical problems, or having faced other difficult situations, to take the first steps in rebuilding a productive, fulfilling life. It is a place people trust, and where they know they will be met without judgment.

Empathy

The library building, programming and staff create a safe, multi-cultural and supportive space in Austin where all can feel welcome. A city succeeds when people from all walks of life can come together to share and build community.

The Austin Public Library and its staff are an essential part of our community and we look forward to working with you to strengthen and improve the quality of life of all our residents. As we focus on a new year and new possibilities, we urge you to talk about and invest in the library as we all work together for the community of Austin.

What’s your favorite library “E”? Do you have a story that explains why? Let us know at ask@aplmn.ogr or post on our Facebook page @Austin Public Library MN. Help us tell the story of the power of community. And don’t forget to visit us – online or in person – to see what the library can do for you.