If one were to pluck problems like weeds from the soil of life, exposing the unseen roots feeding the thorns above, ignorance would be exposed as the footing of most troubles. Knowledge, therefore, is the weeding tool needed to nourish a verdant and varied garden of the mind and soul. And the gardening sheds with the sharpest and most superior tools are our public libraries.
For over a century, a thriving public library has been a cornerstone of LIFE in Paducah. Those who served as librarians and staff cultivated a culture of education that has had lasting effects for generations, rippling out through space and time. And even though technology has revolutionized the dissemination of information to a more personal level, the McCracken County Public Library ventures beyond frontiers to elevate the consciousness of us all.
“It’s more about the people than the books,” says Library Director Susan Baier. “I love the books, of course—librarians do—but it’s about connecting with people and helping them get the tools and resources to achieve their hopes and dreams.”
Susan sees the library as a dynamic, community hub. “It’s more about what we do as opposed to what we have,” she says. “That being said, we have some great stuff. We have excellent collections of books, periodicals, DVDs, electronic resources, and databases. We’ve got that covered. But we have to use what we posses to affect community and fill vital roles, whether that’s doing homebound delivery services, visiting the twelve assisted living facilities, teaching coding classes at Sprocket or Oscar Cross, having a free flu shot clinic, or taking programs to the juvenile detention center. It’s about giving people access to what they need to support the lives they want to live, even if that means taking it to them.”
In this, the library defines a core tenant of life broadly. “It’s literacy on different levels,” says Susan. “The traditional view of literacy—reading and writing—is critical. And we obviously support that. But we help people make informed decisions on other levels with things such as health and wellness, financial matters, career development, digital learning, and much more—from cradle to grave.”
Susan and the library staff develop programs based on community needs. “I attend a lot of meetings,” says Susan. “For example, I go to the Healthy Paducah coalition meetings to discover this community’s health opportunities and challenges. Our programming has reflected the needs. We’ve been offering free yoga classes, community bike rides, free flu shot clinics, and the Fit Lit Walking Book Club. So this is just one example of a way we see a need and help fill it.
“We really want to continue to tie ourselves into bigger initiatives that can improve the future of this region. For instance, the coding programs, which we received a grant for, came from a continual conversation about technology jobs that are unfilled. It’s about the need for a talent pipeline. I kept hearing that. And any discussion about innovation and the future should involve the library. Now we can help introduce a much-needed skillset to a wide, diverse group of kids, including those who are underrepresented in this field. Additionally, in workforce development, we offer classes on resume and cover letter writing, classes on finding jobs online, and, most recently, we held a job fair with second-chance employers. That means they consider applicants with a previous, criminal background. We had about 74 people come out. There was such a need there.”
Such programs demonstrate that for the McCracken County Public Library, it is about meeting people on various levels. “There is still a digital divide in this community, for example” says Susan. “Not everyone has access to online resources. For some students, this is the only place they have to do their homework. A person can hardly apply for jobs without internet access. The days of filling out a paper application are pretty much over. And now we have digital toolbox program where people can check out laptops and hotspots. We had a non-traditional nursing student from WKCTC who was practically in tears when she checked one out because she could do her homework at home.”
Such stories of impact are common. “It is a library that is cherished by the community,” adds Susan. “So many people have amazing stories, many from times when they were a child and now they bring their children here. They have personal connections. And we have an excellent, dedicated staff who are so visible in the community, and that connection goes with them no matter where they are. There is a deep pool of talent here, and the community benefits from that. We have artists, musicians, writers, and more. I joke that I am the only one here who isn’t multi-talented. I am good at working at the library.”
As Susan reflects on what she wants the library to be for McCracken County and beyond, she comes back the individuals who realize the benefit of personal education and development. “I want it to have an impact on people’s lives. That may mean something as simple as being entertained and enjoying something they are reading or watching. That’s great. But we also have the chance to create transformative experiences. We see people all the time who need something, and whatever that may be, they feel like they can come to the library for answers. We’ve even had people come to us in times of crisis when no one else was available. We are often that first inquiry. Once again, it’s about meeting needs on multiple levels. That’s why we are here.”
And with every patron assisted, every child exposed to a new idea, and every change for the positive, the library removes another weed that can no longer threaten to choke out the vitality of this garden we call LIFE.
For more information on programs and services offered by the McCracken County Public Library, visit mclib.net. And, as always, all programs and services are offered to anyone in the public at no charge.