One of the library’s key partners has been the local health department, in Pennsylvania called the Health Bureau. This partnership has taken three forms:
- Services for individuals experiencing homelessness
- Bike Bethlehem bike share
Let’s look at how the Health Bureau and the library put the pieces together!
Services for individuals experiencing homelessness. Physical proximity made the Bethlehem Area Public Library and the Bethlehem Health Bureau a natural partnership. The library and the Health Bureau shared an interest in leveraging community spaces – like the open plaza between their two facilities – to build community. These downtown neighbors began their collaboration with a desire to serve the homeless population, who used the library as a day shelter. A nurse began visiting the library to help address any needs within the homeless community, but the people were wary of any interaction. Library Director, Josh Berk, said, “it didn’t work at all,” but he recognized the potential of the partnership and began thinking about other ways the two organizations could benefit one another.
The health department had experts that could provide information, and the library had patrons looking for information. So staff from the health department began coming into the library to run information tables, hold flu clinics, and lead exercise programs. The relationship flourished and the health department proposed more ideas for collaboration.
Bike Bethlehem bike share. Bike Bethlehem brought together more community organizations. “The Bethlehem Health Bureau (our City Health Department) spearheaded the project. It was their idea to start a bike-share around the City and they reached out to us because (1) we are right next door to the Health Bureau (2) we are open more hours than they are (3) we are good at loaning things out!” Bike Bethlehem – Bethlehem Area Public Library. The health department had an idea, but to make that idea successful, they needed the library’s partnership, since the library has resources the health department does not, including physical space, a system to check things in and out, and a much higher volume of foot traffic.
Funded through St. Luke’s Hospital HIV prevention, the bike share program was designed “to help some of our patients in the area have a way to be able to travel and get them engaged in things like the library and activity,” said Kelly Berk. The program was offered to the general public to help reduce the stigma surrounding HIV and alternate forms of transportation.
The Citizens Traffic Advisory Committee and the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation, or CAT, participated in the planning of the bike share program. CAT got more involved with the library through Bike to Work Week. Then the organization moved their board meetings to a space within the library.
Library Circulation Manager, Dawn Fritz, organized the logistics of the check out process, such as creating a spreadsheet and filing waiver forms. “We can do it with half a million books a year; we can do it with a few dozen bikes,” said Berk.
While there were many parties interested in seeing this program developed and implemented, there were also some hurdles to overcome. The planning committee met weekly to discuss any issues and find solutions.
One issue was maintenance. The team had engaged a local bike shop, however they were not always available when repairs and maintenance were needed.
And because the bikes could not be returned after hours, they struggled with timely returns. The return time was adjusted to one hour before closing, and it was printed on the check out receipts.
Storage was also a challenge. When the library closed due to COVID 19 the bike share was temporarily put on hold, so they needed a place to store the bicycles. The library staff made space for them in their basement.
The library staff has a strong appreciation for the collaborations that have made this type of extra program within the library available. According to Fritz, they try to always credit community partners when checking out the bikes.
StoryWalks and beyond. Having worked together through multiple complications and nurtured the relationship with the health department, the library felt comfortable taking on new projects with them. The partnership went on to develop a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), StoryWalks, Community Health Needs Assessment, and a painted courtyard called Play Roll Plaza. The ability to reassess and adapt when challenges arise was key in allowing this partnership to continue and thrive.