It has been a big, huge, enormous, gigantic, week at Rochester (MN) Public Library. After our second year of being named a finalist , we are honored to be a winner of the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Service! Let that soak in. And then read it again: We are honored to be a winner of the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Service!
That is a great sentence, but it is nowhere near the whole story. This award is the result of years of listening to our community, living our strategic plan & core values, being agile, taking risks, failing, succeeding, measuring outcomes, and listening some more. We strive to increase equity by targeting services to those who have limited access due to language, finances, health, safety, literacy, or other obstacles.
If you only have three more minutes to give to this blog post, watch this video. If you have more time, watch the video and then keep reading.
“We Care” defines RPL’s core values. We believe that the relationships built with our customers and colleagues underpin our essential role at the heart of the community. We take pride in serving and elevating the entire community by emphasizing focused intervention, creating cohesion, generating opportunities, and reducing inequity. Five youth focused programs were highlighted in our application.
LGBTQIA+ Safe Space
One of the more at-risk segments of our population is the LGBTQIA community. As reported by Gender Inclusive Schools, gender diverse and transgender students in 9th and 11th grades in Minnesota are “3 times more likely to feel unsafe at school,” “4 times more likely to be bullied at school,” and “twice as likely to feel unsupported by their community….” We identified our role as a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA) Safe Space within the community through conversations with the public and local organizations. Now, we are trailblazers in providing safe spaces for the LGBTQIA community and educating others on these topics.
To meet the needs of LGBTQIA teens, we offer q club as a destination where teens feel valued. It fosters a connection so deep that teens turn to librarians for help with some of their most trying life circumstances. Parents also sought support, so we began Parents Empower Pride as a monthly gathering for families to connect and discuss LGBTQIA topics. Supportive environments for positive inclusion of gender diverse and transgender individuals were a rarity, so we responded to this by making LGBTQIA safe space training for community organizations a priority in our action plans.
Teen q club survey respondents indicated that over 80% felt safer in the library and almost 70% increased their knowledge of the library’s LGBTQIA materials. 100% of Parents Empower Pride attendees reported that they feel more connected to the community, have a larger network or support system, have more tools to support their children, and gained knowledge. Of the teen attendees at Pride Prom 2017, almost all indicated they felt more connected since attending; nearly 85% indicated they had a greater understanding of resources in the community; and 100% reported a positive experience with RPL. At a recent training, 80% of attendees responded that the transgender information was very helpful to their work and relationships with youth.
Rochester Reading Champions
The critical life skill of reading affects employment, citizenship, civic engagement, financial decisions, and health outcomes. Less than 40% of 3rd graders in Rochester Public Schools (RPS) eligible to receive free and reduced priced lunch met reading proficiency standards last year. Yet over 70% of their more affluent peers met this proficiency. Also, of the 3rd grade English learners in RPS, less than 20% met reading proficiency. Reported by ProLiteracy, nearly one in two adults “with the lowest literacy levels live in poverty.” Also, ProLiteracy notes, “75% of state prison inmates did not complete high school or can be classified as low literate.” Rochester Reading Champions (RRC) was developed to provide free tutoring to reduce illiteracy among these targeted populations.
To impact low-income youth and adult struggling readers in our community, we joined with The Reading Center/Dyslexia Institute of MN, Boys & Girls Club of Rochester, Olmsted County Adult Detention Center, and Hawthorne Education Center to design and implement RRC as a free tutoring program in 2014. This model program centers on highly-trained volunteers receiving 120 hours of Orton-Gillingham training and providing individualized twice weekly one-on-one instruction to underserved students at locations they frequent. With multiple adverse childhood experiences impacting the students we serve, this program’s design helps those with the very least unlock their potential, build resiliency, and acquire hope.
Fourteen youth and adult students have reached post assessment and improved an average of over two grade levels in reading and spelling. A 6th grade RRC student said, “The tutoring has been awesome. My tutor has made a huge impact on my life.” His guardian said, “My grandson has had reading support through school since 1st grade. But, I saw significant improvement with RRC. My grandson was so frustrated with reading before this program. Now, he is excited to go to tutoring lessons where he uses both reading and listening skills.”
BookBike & ArtCart
To connect with people where they live and play, we offer library services via our BookBike. Our 2015 Local Government Innovation Award-winning BookBike, a bicycle pulled trailer, provides access to books and DVDs, library cards, and advisory services within downtown and in nearby low-income neighborhoods. In 2017, we added an ArtCart with hands-on creative projects. Almost 97% of BookBike users agreed that access to the trailer allowed them to check-out more materials and a BookBike user stated, “Love the RPL and their innovations to help Rochester families!”
Through Neighbors Read, we distribute over 8,000 free books annually in over 190 mini-libraries located throughout the county. Almost 80% of people who used Neighbors Read reported that they read more due to access to a mini-library. Books on the Fly, a combined mini-library and downloadable e-book kiosk site at our regional airport, offers free reading options to many of the visitors (nearly 3 million) to Rochester.
Our flexible approach to reaching different audiences, coupled with a focus on eliminating access barriers, significantly increases our impact on the community. At the launch of the 2017 Summer Playlist–our engaging all-ages summer reading and experience program–we held a fine amnesty week to attract cardholders unable to use the library due to financial barriers. 44% of survey respondents agreed that they were able to check-out more items due to having their fines forgiven. One customer stated, “Thank you so much! I would have avoided the library for a few months because I don’t have alot of money right now for the fines.” Another customer noted, “Your summer reading program was a wonderful idea! It was broad enough to include children who struggle with reading, but want to participate. It included both of my great nephews, one who is deaf and one who has ADHD.”
We are always open to ideas from community members, taking risks, engaging volunteers, and continuously improving by learning from past successes and challenges. For us, community involvement impacts relevancy, extends reach, creates shared ownership, engages the community, builds vibrancy, and improves resiliency. Our library is a dynamic, welcoming, boisterous community connector, and change agent. Similar to our founders, we are unaware of what the future will bring. However, we know it will be innovative and completely community-driven. An agile public institution might sound like an oxymoron but, at RPL, we excel at being nimble.