Filling the Needs of the Community: Ypsilanti District Library
Advocacy efforts paid off for one Michigan public library.
Today’s public library plays many roles in its community beyond the (still vitally important) service of providing access to books and written materials at no charge to the user. Today, the primary role of the public library is service: service to the community and residents through information, education and artistic programs, and vital outreach and support.
However, libraries rarely benefit from unlimited budgets, whether because they’re undervalued by local government, or there’s a lack of funds in general. When libraries are underfunded, the services they provide are necessarily curtailed or even cut, or they’re not given the space they need to operate fully.
Recently, libraries have fought back against the loss of services due to underfunding. That includes the Ypsilanti District Library in Michigan, which lobbied for funds with the support of the community and EveryLibrary—and they experienced success in the form of new building projects. These new spaces are vital for a library seeking to expand its support and service to its patrons.
“I was hired here in 2015, and the library’s budget had been decimated by the economic downturn and had not recovered,” said Lisa Hoenig, director of the Ypsilanti District Library. “They had a project that had been put on hold, where in 2007, the library had opened a very small temporary library in one room of a fire station that was smaller than a two-car garage.” That location was meant to be temporary, but the economics of the times changed the course of the location. “[It] was intended to be temporary, and the library was planning to build a new building shortly thereafter to serve that community,” said Hoenig. “With the economic downturn, the library was suddenly laying people off instead of building, which left the newly joined community angry and underserved.”
The library system and the surrounding community were not ready to give up. They turned to EveryLibrary to help them organize efforts to build community awareness and support. Those efforts allowed the libraries to show the local government that people in the community did, in fact, support giving the library expanded funding to allow them to expand their services and locations.
“We decided to engage EveryLibrary in our efforts so that we could do as much at the grassroots level as possible and get our community behind our efforts,” said Hoenig. “I used the resources from EveryLibrary with the grassroots public committee that we put together, and they helped me show my staff how to work with partners in the community to demonstrate how our missions intersected, such that it was in their best interest to see our millage pass as well.”
With the funding secured thanks to the efforts of library staff, the community, and EveryLibrary’s assistance, tackling the task of constructing a new space to suit the needs of the community in question was not simple. “In the beginning, we’d scoped out locations we might renovate and ultimately decided in the end that we needed to build ourselves,” she said. “There wasn’t anything that could be changed into a library. I’d worked really hard to win the trust of the township administration, and they had some ideas about what they wanted to see. I eventually won them over enough that they agreed to gift us the land that we’re building on. The size of the building was increased because we did some public input sessions and wanted to encompass as many of their wants and needs as possible.”
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In spite of these challenges (not to mention the difficulties brought on by the global pandemic), Ypsilanti moved forward. When asked what advice she would have for other libraries working to secure funding for building projects, Hoenig pointed to community engagement and smart project planning. “Having the support and the buy-in of your staff and of your public at large is really important. The more you can involve them and get their support and their interest piqued and get them working on the ground for you, the more likely you will be successful.”
When it comes to underserved communities, Ypsilanti District Library illustrates how communities can band together with the help of library organizers and support from organizations like EveryLibrary, making their support clear to local administrations in charge of allocating the funds and the space needed for the library to meet the needs of the community and expand the reach of their service.
EveryLibrary thanks the staff at the Ypsilanti District Library and their community for the opportunity to work with them and do our part to see the public libraries of America reach their fullest potential.
Visit www.everylibrary.org to learn more about our work on behalf of libraries.
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