Libraries hold thousands upon thousands of stories.
So many, in fact, that the library’s own story can be overlooked.
“We’ve struggled for many years to tell our own story about all of the things that are happening here because there is such a huge variety of services and collections,” said Julia Turpin, the Johnson City Public Library’s director.
Many may think of the library solely as the place to borrow books and movies or to print documents, but it is much more than that. The library has been highly adaptive and its services continue to evolve and change based on the needs of the community.
Many resources go beyond what people might expect.
Of course, most of us are familiar with the “typical” library services such as lending materials and offering computer and printer access. Some know about the library’s online resources and the range of events the building facilitates.
But fewer know the extent of these resources and how much of an asset the library is.
The library “is for everybody,” said Turpin. “Birth to grave, we’re providing services for people — and I think we’re unique in that too.”
The library hosts many early literacy activities that have a dual purpose of cultivating reading skills in kids and offering the children’s guardians guidance and support as they try to continue encouraging those skills at home. Turpin said the library works closely with local school systems to support and complement the learning that is already being done in the classroom.
A safe place for teens
The library serves as a safe place for teens to do homework or to meet with friends and hang out. There are also numerous volunteer and community involvement programs through the Teen Services department.
In addition to computer and printing facilities, the library offers test preparation materials and proctors exams. Teens who are ready to take the ACT or SAT are able to study and be better prepared by using these free materials. Adults who need to take the voter exam can study and have their exam proctored at the library as well.
Many of the services that the library offers to adults are often forgotten or taken for granted.
The Adult Services department works to meet a wide range of needs in the area, the Community Conversation group aids in community building and adult Spanish classes help break down language barriers in the community.
The library has worked with other community partners over the years to address public health and wellness. The Johnson City Public Library facilitates information sessions on managing stress, dental health and blood pressure. It has also hosted blood drives, vaccination clinics, family yoga classes and life skills classes.
“Supporting a library means that you’re supporting your community,” Turpin said. “All of this makes us a stronger community, and we want Johnson City to be the best that it can be. Having a strong public library is just a part of that.”
Perhaps the biggest service that many people take for granted is free access to a wealth of resources for both education and entertainment. Families who have young children who are hungry for knowledge and reading can satiate that hunger for free through the library.
Researchers interested in local history can take advantage of the Tennessee Room, which features a wide-ranging local history collection. Simply being in the library and being connected to its WiFi gives guests free access to Ancestry.com.
The library even has digital resources through the Tennessee Electronic Library which allows digital access to resources regardless of whether you have a library card. There are also programs like Liby and Hoopla that allow library patrons to have access to numerous digital copies of books, movies and television shows.
An open public space
In addition to these many ways that the library helps to build community, it is also a physical place where community is encouraged.
“Public libraries are important because they are one of the few remaining truly free and open public spaces that exist in our communities,” said Turpin. “(It’s) a gathering space … that isn’t presenting itself with an agenda or selling something.”
The public library continues to partner with other agencies in the community to offer a safe and non-threatening environment where people can gather and grow. Public libraries function as safe havens for homeless neighbors and teens who are living in difficult or unsafe home environments.
Public libraries continue to be cornerstones of their communities despite the many changes that those communities experience. There is something there for everyone, and even those who are not currently library supporters may be surprised by the variety of services they offer.
“I really would encourage people to come in and visit,” said Turpin. “Because that’s a great way to fully understand how much is happening here. It’s not just about checking out the new best seller … there’s so much more to it than that.”
More information on what the library is doing and the services it is providing can be found on its website, jcpl.org.