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Renewed focus to reach underserved community making strides in Hall County

GPLS News, August 2018

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Renewed focus to reach underserved community making strides in Hall County
Intern Doris Toledo (left) translated materials for Hall County Library’s special needs services into Spanish and organized the Spanish collection to be more searchable. Doris, a YALSA intern, also developed an improved marketing and services plan for Hispanic patrons. Photo credit: Adrianne Junius

Libraries are a vital community center, provide youth with programming to build a love of reading and have resources and training for students of all ages. But for residents of the East Hall community, these services have been unavailable for years.

“There is a high rate of poverty in East Hall, and when the library closed in 2011, people were cut off from our services,” said Lisa McKinney, director of the Hall County Library System. “There is little internet service there, and many residents lack transportation to get to another library, which would be at least a 20-minute drive.”

A second challenge was shifting local demographics. Many residents in East Hall primarily speak Spanish, so as the library tried to build bridges through pop-up events, it was difficult to help people understand how library services could benefit them because library staff only spoke English.

Without the possibility of reopening a physical building, the library sought other ways to make inroads in East Hall. Three grants have made possible a new strategy to reach this underserved community. The local Friends of the Library group provided funds for summer programs at the East Hall Community Center, starting with summer reading performances in summer 2017. Programming expanded when local business Jackson EMC granted money for a pop-up library, including transportable shelving materials and checkout technology, and then the library system received a Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) grant to hire two Spanish-speaking teen summer interns.

With the three grants in place, the library held a robust set of programs in East Hall this summer.

Alyssa Ramos, 16, was one of the two YALSA-sponsored library interns. “I wanted to do something good for the community and for myself,” she said.

She provided essential Spanish-language outreach at the Hispanic Health Alliance Fair, where she showcased how libraries can be beneficial. Many attendees had mistakenly thought that a library card cost money, and they didn’t know that libraries had free internet or youth programming. More than 100 people signed up for a library card that day - the most ever for the system at an event.

Foreign-language checkout of materials has increased 22 percent in one year as the library prioritized staff language ability, outreach events to East Hall and partnerships with the Hispanic Alliance and the local Congolese refugee community.

The library recently held a reptile show at the East Hall Community Center, where more than 130 people learned about alligators, snakes and turtles and browsed the pop-up library.

“I had people stopping me in the hallway to say they were grateful for the library coming to their community,” said Adrianne Junius, director of youth services for Hall County Library. “We were so excited to be able to tell them that the community center will be a permanent place for library programming during the summer months. There also will be a library presence throughout the year at school and community events.”