Columbus Metropolitan Library’s most popular program is, hands down, it’s Summer Reading Challenge. In 2019, more than 60,000 teens, kids and adults participated in the annual literacy program, which has been running for nearly 100 years.
But for many in our community, the library represents much more than a place to find a good book. It’s a place where you can learn about and access critical social services, it’s a safe place to get after-school homework help and it’s a resource for the job and life skills necessary for success in an increasingly tech-centric world.
“Our vision is a thriving community where wisdom prevails,” said Gregg Dodd, director of marketing for Columbus Metropolitan Library. “The foundation of that is, of course, literacy, but there are a lot of needs in the community beyond this, job assistance being a major one.”
During the Great Recession, library leadership and staff began to shift their focus to meet the needs of the community in new ways. Since 2008, college-readiness and job-preparation programs have been at the forefront of the library’s work —between 2008 and 2009, about 40,000 individuals participated in help sessions that resulted in many job placements.
And this spring, a participant of the Franklinton Branch’s homework help program was accepted into 12 colleges, many offering full-ride scholarships.
“Public libraries serve the role of responding to a community’s greatest needs. In the last decade or so, that’s been computer literacy, homework help, high-school graduation prep, kindergarten readiness,” Dodd said. “But as we travel this current path, the community’s needs are shifting and growing.”
Now, during the most significant public health crisis of a lifetime, the library is further increasing job and life skills services and programs in an effort to help those who have been hit hardest.
In March, in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, each of the system’s 23 libraries closed its doors. Library staff quickly pivoted, repositioning the website as a 24-hour digital library. Now, customers can digitally apply for and receive a library card, which offers access to eBooks, streaming content and dozens of free resources like Lynda.com, which offers access to more than 60,000 video courses — many offering certifications — tailored to the technical skills companies seek in applicants. Through a workforce readiness collaboration with CoverMyMeds, card holders have access to free job skills training designed to prepare them for and connect them with careers.
“We have seen tremendous participation in the workforce readiness program, which provides opportunities for people in our community to gain skills that translate into living wage careers,” said Scott Gaines, Chief Operating Officer of CoverMyMeds and board member of the Columbus Metropolitan Library Foundation. “We are inspired by the Library’s vision and the lasting impact it continues to make in the community.”
The library team also launched a chat feature for students to support individual homework help offered online Monday through Friday— as well as the Reserve an Expert feature, through which you can reserve a reference librarian for a one-on-one virtual appointment. Online story time is offered twice a week through the library’s social accounts and their YouTube channel.
“We’re beginning to think about what our role will be when we do reopen,” Dodd said. “Our country is in a financial crisis, and many nonprofits may cease to exit; how can we help fill that void? We’re not 100 percent sure what that will look like, but we stand ready and committed to help.”
“Each one of our employees plays a role in the impact we make in the communities we serve,” Dodd continued. “While many can’t complete their duties from home, our hope is to have them back as quickly as possible, so we can continue to provide the level of service we have for 147 years.”
Visit Columbus Metropolitan Library’s website at columbuslibrary.org to learn more, apply for a library card and get connected to free materials and resources. Plus, learn about ways you can give back by visiting its Foundation website, foundation.columbuslibrary.org.