By Maria Sanchez-Tucker, Community Services Director
Public Libraries are leading the way in engaging the community. Libraries are no longer simply places filled with books—they are important centers for civic and community engagement. One key take-away from our collective experience of the Covid-19 Pandemic is that connection with community and each other is vital to contributing to a healthy community. According to Erik Kleinenberg, in his 2018 book “Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life,” “Public Libraries provide vital social infrastructure and are essential not only for a neighborhood’s vitality but also for buffering all kinds of personal problems--including isolation and loneliness.” In addition to providing access to life-long learning, freedom of information, and access to technology, Santa Fe Public Libraries (SFPL) offers programs and welcoming public spaces that allow for connecting with one another and they serve everyone. Our library programs, services and spaces help foster personal growth, contribute to health and well-being, reduce crime, and contribute to the economic and educational growth in neighborhoods and communities.
We are also finding ways to encourage community contributions. Whether they be oral history programs like our Neighborhood Storytellers program a partnership with Littleglobe or lecture series with community and historic perspectives, Santa Fe Public libraries are ensuring that community is engaged and participating. Last year we offered 544 programs for all ages with 15,000 participants. I would like to highlight two programs that reflect the unique work that SFPL is doing to enhance our community.
In 2019, Santa Fe was selected as one of five cities across the country to participate in a new initiative to better equip museum and library professionals to serve young children and families. Building a National Network of Museums and Libraries for School Readiness is an agreement with the Boston Children’s Museum funded through a Grant funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The initiative aims to address persistent gaps and opportunities in early childhood education by forming coalitions of museums and libraries. The goal of the initiative is to ensure every child, regardless of socio-economic or linguistic background, has the skills needed to enter school prepared for success. Through this program the Santa Fe Children’s Museum and the SFPL are partnering to better serve young children across Santa Fe.
SFPL supports life-long learning. Through a partnership with the New Mexico State Library and support from the Friends of the Santa Fe Public Library, SFPL was able to offer a scholarship to the Career Online High School (COHS). Available by scholarship through select public libraries, COHS offers adults the opportunity to complete their high school education and receive an accredited diploma. This type of program can be life-changing for many who may not have had the opportunity to earn a high school diploma. SFPL celebrates one graduate from this inaugural program launched last year and hopes to support many more.
Our three branches all have their own special character and dedicated staff and patrons. Visit one of your public libraries, check out a book and participate in one of our many programs, and experience for yourself how libraries connect communities. santafepubliclibrary.org
This op-ed originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican on October 10, 2022.