Libraries Are a Gateway to Community Connection
Many of us think of libraries as just a place for literature. Checking out a book allows the reader to escape into faraway places, the great minds of authors, and the collective knowledge of our people. Reading is a great form of self-care, but it is also a solitary activity that can take you away from others.
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Luckily, libraries offer much more than books — they also provide the tools to take you deeper into your own surroundings and connect with your community. Through social events, classes, and other programs, libraries have always made a positive impact on their communities by bringing people together.
In the past few years, the global pandemic has taken away important opportunities to connect with others. Many people were stuck in their homes for months or years. The American population is seeing higher rates of loneliness, depression, and anxiety since early 2020 when lockdowns and social isolation went into effect.
Fortunately, most libraries have opened back up in some capacity, and many are offering opportunities for community connection. Whatever your interests may be — art, health, wellness, gardening, or reading — your local library likely provides a service or event that can connect you with like-minded people in your community.
Social connection is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle and has even been reported to strengthen the immune system, help disease recovery times, and increase lifespan. By offering community events, libraries can have a positive impact on the health and well-being of their surrounding population.
Libraries offer a wide range of community events. Book clubs are a common sight at libraries. They provide participants with the opportunity to connect with like-minded readers, which can deepen the club’s understanding and enjoyment of the book.
For children, libraries offer countless after-school programs, classes, and other events. Kids can interact with others their own age, while also hearing books read aloud (story-time), learning a new skill (art classes), or sharing in some exercise (yoga).
Libraries have long served as a meeting place for gardening enthusiasts. Workshops and classes are often held in the spring to give new gardeners a head start on growing. Libraries often keep a seed bank and provide free seeds to those who need them. Best of all, attendees can connect with other outdoor-oriented people in their community!
If you are looking to connect with others on a special interest that your library doesn’t currently support, feel free to start your own club or meeting, in conjunction with your library, to make those connections.
Learn From Your Neighbors
Libraries offer much more than just literature. Education for both children and adults is available at most libraries. These experiences are often free and offer a unique opportunity to connect with other members of the community.
For example, the San Diego Public Library system has been offering free Tax Assistance Clinics in early 2022, which gives knowledge and power to those who find it difficult to wade through our confusing tax code. This can allow people to save both time and money, leaving more of each to use on connecting with their community.
Job or career coaching is another common library service. These services can put people in touch with potential employers, provide interview training, and share basic job skills.
Painting, writing, and other creative classes can put attendees in contact with other artists in their area. Networking is an important part of any activity or business, especially so with artistic endeavors. Finding others to learn from and stay motivated with can help ignite the creative spark inside new artists.
Share Your Skills
Not only can you participate, but you may even be able to contribute to the happenings at your library. Volunteer opportunities are almost always available and can range from desk work to helping run events, and even hosting classes of your own. Volunteering is one of the most direct and impactful ways that you can make a positive change in your community, while also connecting with your neighbors and friends.
Do you have a specialized skill that you are willing to share? Your local library just might want to build a class or event around it — yoga, art, and language classes are all popular events at libraries that you may be able to host.
How about hobbies? Can you share a passion of yours? Boardgame nights are popular and an easy way to share and connect with others. How-to and do-it-yourself classes are also becoming more popular — if you have woodworking or home-repair skills, there are members of your community that would love to learn from you.
Even if leading classes isn’t your style, there are many other volunteer opportunities, depending on your location. Some libraries will organize community cleanup events, allowing people to come together for a positive cause. Assistants are always needed for simple tasks in the library, such as organizing books, cleaning the facility, or performing desk work.
Many libraries need tutors for both adult and youth literacy programs. You can play an important part in a child’s education, or even help an adult learn to read, which is an essential skill in today’s world.
Join Your Community at the Local Library
With all the opportunities that libraries provide, everyone is sure to find an event, class, or service that speaks to them. By participating in these programs, people can find social connections, as well as a sense of purpose that comes with making a positive impact on your community.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.” This common quote, usually attributed to Mother Theresa, illustrates the effects that you and your local library can have on the community. Making these small connections at your library may not change the world, but consistent participation in community events can have profound, rippling effects, both in your own life and in the lives of your neighbors.
Visit www.everylibrary.org to learn how you can support the wider community of library advocates in the United States.