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The Case for Neighborhood Libraries

Laura O'Grady
Laura O’Grady

A few years ago library systems around the country began to promote the idea of library “outposts” or in the case of the Free Library of Philadelphia, “Hot Spots.” These flexible mini-libraries found a home in urban centers across the country. Reaching outside their traditional brick and mortar, they were able to adapt spaces to bring fundamental library services to the neighborhood level and serve as a gateway to their main operations. These spaces were, and still are, transformable and user-friendly.

I’m excited to say that York County Libraries is embarking on an outpost of our own. Martin Library is a branch of the York County Library System located in the City of York. While our library greets 40,000 visitors per month, we find ourselves unable to reach the high need population of the Salem Square neighborhood. When a former nuisance bar in Salem Square, the site of gang violence and drug deals, was closed down by the City, Martin Library was able to step in to help. With support from Penn Waste, W. Dale Brougher Foundation, the York County Community Foundation, FirstEnergy Foundation, the City of York and more we plan on opening this library in April.

Plans for the library include book delivery, bi-lingual story time, after school STEM education and workforce development programs. The library will be open twenty hours per week and will be staffed with individuals hired from within the Salem Square neighborhood. In order to adhere to our goal of being responsive to community needs, we plan on hosting citizen panels for regular check-up’s to ensure our programs are useful and relevant. To engage the community even further, we’re holding a contest with the local elementary school so they can help decide on the name of their library.

I’ve always been inspired by how innovative librarians can be. What makes this project even more inspiring is the collaboration between city agencies, private donors, the business community, foundations, the library and a passionate group of city residents. These partnerships are allowing our city to take a location once marred by violence and crime and transform it into a community resource. I’m proud to play a small part in this project and am eager to help it succeed.

Laura O’Grady is the Director of Development for York County Libraries. She is the Chair of the Youth Services Division of the Pennsylvania Library Association and a member of the PA Forward Financial Literacy Committee. Laura is currently reading All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda and listening to You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein.

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