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Linking the Library to the Community

October 22, 2013

By Melissa Heintz
Public Affairs Specialist, IMLS

The Waukegan Public Library has been serving its community for the past 115 years. For Executive Director Richard Lee, the best measurement of the library’s success is how well it answers the needs of the community, not the numbers that come from book circulation. The Waukegan, IL community needed the library to be a place that supports education. With the demographics of the community shifting to a larger Latino population, the library hired an engagement and outreach coordinator to create a team of ambassadors to find out what their Latino patrons needed. With that, the library’s Promotoras Ambassador Program was born.

Promotoras like Diana Alvey advocate for the library in the Latino community by letting citizens know what is available to them. Many Latinos did not visit libraries in their home countries and were not familiar with the concept of a library. Promotoras help break down that barrier by helping people get library cards and access to books and other materials. Promotoras also connect people with library programs that can help them to complete high school, learn English and improve computer skills.

For Lee, the library is only successful if community members are successful. When ESL students come back and say they were able to ask for raises or promotions at their jobs, or attend their first parent-teacher conferences because they are able to communicate better, that is a success.

The Waukegan Public Library was one of 10 winners of the 2013 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for libraries and museums that are serving their communities in exceptional ways. Do you know of a museum or library that has made a difference? Nominations are now being accepted for the 2014 National Medal. Nomination Forms must be mailed and postmarked by October 31, 2013.

National Medal for Museum and Library Service