In the new digital era, where some might argue that libraries are becoming no longer relevant, one New York City library system is proving that it is more than just a place to sit and read.
The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), which features 60 branches across the borough, will receive in June the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Medal — the country’s highest honor for museums and libraries.
The library system — which is considered the fifth largest in the country — is being awarded for the outreach services it continuously offers to residents such as citizenship classes for new Americans, creative aging workshops for older adults, book delivery to those who are homebound and oral history collection for veterans.
“Great libraries reflect the communities that they serve and Brooklyn is such a diverse community,” said Linda Johnson, president and CEO of the BPL.
Johnson added that the goal of the library is to reach out to the communities across the borough and meet the needs of residents. Services are provided for groups of people that face challenges in one way or another, especially large immigrant communities which need help to navigate in the city, and services are adapted based on what works for each community they serve.
She also believes that libraries play a critical role especially for those who might not be able to access resources due to lack of money or even access to the Internet to learn more about what can help them.
“People who have Internet access at home don’t give it a second thought,” Johnson said. “The whole notion of bridging the digital divide and improving access in all corners of the borough is really what is critical.”
For Flatbush resident Kim Best, the BPL has been there for her from the moment she came to the United States as a young girl from Guyana — becoming a place for her to go and do homework — to just recently when she found out that although she had been living in the country for 35 years, she wasn’t a citizen.
Best’s mother had been naturalized as a citizen after Best turned 18, which no longer qualified her to also be given citizenship, but Best did not find out until last May.
Even though she said her life was turned upside down, she was able to get immediate help from the BPL and in the matter of just 11 weeks was guided through every step of the way to becoming a citizen.
“A huge weight came off my shoulders because I had someone to help me,” Best said. “Words cannot even describe how amazing and awesome they have been through the process.”
The mother of one said that along with helping her gain her citizenship, the BPL has played a large role in her life as she was growing up and now she continues to go to the library with her 10-year-old son.
She added that she has library dates with her son and she teaches him about all the resources that are available at the branches. The two are also constantly participating in events across the borough with the library system.
Best will be joining Johnson on June 1 in Washington D.C. for the awards ceremony and she said she is filled with many emotions and believes the “library is more than deserving” of the recognition.
“I am so emotional because they’ve done so much for me, there’s no way to repay them,” she said. “I am so happy they are being recognized because they have changed my life and changed other people’s lives.”