Success Story #1: Broad Creek Community Fitness Trail
The 4-H program, coordinated by the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, became a partner around 2010. Local extension agent Dr. Bill McGowan had lived and worked in Laurel since the early 1980s, but only began thinking about the public library as a community partner decades later, when he learned of the Harwood Institute’s work. At the national level, the Harwood Institute promoted ideas about public librarians as “a potent force for change” in community development, inspiring local actions.
Based on Dr. McGowan’s new awareness of that national discourse, and his experience seeing the library represented in the community, he began to see the library as, in his words, “Instigators. I reached out to the library” then. As a result, a partnership formed with the library hosting 4-H activities. The two organizations worked together on a variety of issues, including teen engagement and community health.
With 4-H programming now based out of the library and Tameca Beckett promoted to Youth Services Librarian, a Teen Ambassador program was established, creating an in-house volunteer base for a variety of programming. This groundwork, and a supportive library administration, provided the necessary pieces for the Broad Creek Community Fitness Trail to emerge.
In 2014, the Laurel Public Library and their partners officially opened the “Broad Creek Community Fitness Trail: A 4-H Engaging Youth, Serving Community Project.”
In partnership with the 4-H program, middle and high school teens completed an 8-month service-learning project in which they selected a topic, engaged the community through a town forum and community meetings, and developed an action plan to address the issue. The selected topic was healthy weight and nutrition, and they decided to create a community fitness trail that includes exercise stations designed for a wide range of users, both in age and physical capabilities.
Tameca applied for funding to purchase the equipment, facilitated by the Extension’s connections with community health efforts in Delaware. A member of a faith-based organization recalled the trail project with the library “to put exercise stations in a local park. They got the grant. They got the equipment shipped in. I put people together to get it done. And it still is used today. That was one of the first and biggest things we did together.” The web of community partners that had grown together enabled the partners to tap into the goodwill of everyone from town government to faith-based organizations to get the job done.
Success Story #2: Food to Patrons
While the previous story focused on a specific initiative, this story instead focuses on how the library recognized a community need – food security – and then worked with partners over several years to develop multiple strategies to make a positive impact.
In the early 2010’s the library started offering cooking programs for adults, with grants written by an adult services librarian. Their impact on food security and literacy increased in 2017, when they started offering “Kids Cafe” summer lunches and after-school suppers, through a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Laurel Public Library strove to adapt this national feeding program to the particularities of the community, working with partners to provide food and education, which led to a collaboration with the Laurel School District’s parallel efforts, aligning the programs to reach the most individuals in need.
Despite these efforts food insecurity still existed in Laurel Public Library’s service area, which encompassed large agricultural areas. Wanting to do more, library director Gail Bruce and her staff developed the Farm to Patron Table initiative, creating another layer of partnerships for the library, this time with the agricultural sector outside of the town itself. They secured shopping carts from partners, which were seeded with produce and food items by local farmers, food producers, and community members, to install at the library. A third cart filled with non-perishable foods and hygiene products was added to serve additional needs.
When the pandemic arrived, the library needed to pivot. With approval from the funders, the cooking classes moved online and the carts moved outside. On June 22, 2021, they announced “Our building may be closed, but we will be serving ‘Grab and Go’ lunches and snacks Monday – Friday at 12 … [and] on Fridays we will be offering weekend bags in addition to lunch.” The library continued this service and also shared information about other meal sites coordinated by the school district.
On July 31, 2020, the library announced that “Starting Monday we will have carts at the front of the library as part of our ‘Farm to Patron Table’ program. If you have excess produce from your garden or produce stand please consider adding it to the cart – even if it is just a few items, every bit helps! If you are in need, please take what you can use. Share the bounty and help those in need in our community.”
The Farm to Patron initiative dovetails with a parallel effort to install hydroponic gardens inside the building, supported by the library’s participation in OCLC/WebJunction’s Small Libraries Create Smart Spaces.