By DANIEL KITTREDGE
In recognition of the system’s “strong, proactive response to changing community needs,” the Cranston Public Library last week hosted a ceremony honoring its third-place showing in the LibraryAware Community Award competition.
“There’s a lot of great things going on here, and we’re really honored by the recognition,” Library Director Ed Garcia told those on hand at the Central Library on Sockanosset Cross Road.
The award – originally announced in March – was presented by the publication Library Journal, and is funded by LibraryAware, which is a product of EBSCO Publishing’s NoveList Division. The Louisville Free Public Library in Kentucky took top honors nationally, followed by a second-place award to the combined Brooklyn, New York, and Queens public libraries.
Garcia and Mayor Allan Fung accepted a plaque on behalf of the city in recognition of the award, along with a $5,000 prize.
Rebecca Miller, editor-in-chief of Library Journal, said the LibraryAware award was “created to celebrate innovation in libraries … and also to elevate awareness of the library as a key institution.” She called the selection process “extremely competitive.”
Cranston, she said, was specifically being honored for its “reaction to the needs of the area’s burgeoning immigrant and non-English speaking communities.”
She called the system’s efforts “dynamic” compared with those outlined in other applications.
A piece in the April 1 edition of Library Journal highlighting Cranston’s award points to a 37-percent increase in the number of city residents speaking languages other than English in their home between 2000 and 2014, and a 44-percent increase in the number of foreign-born residents over that same timeframe.
“Luckily the Cranston Public Library, with a deep understanding of its community, was ahead of the curve: in 1999, CPL partnered with the then-newly created Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative to offer free ELL and citizenship preparation classes at library locations, a collaboration that continues to this day,” the piece reads.
The piece applauds other ways in which the library has pursued “proactive community service,” including through a 2013 community needs assessment conducted in conjunction with the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. It also points to voters’ backing of a $1.2-million bond question for the library system in 2014.
“Cranston Public Library continues to make a difference here, and for libraries nationally and internationally, with its model,” Miller said, adding that libraries are “trusted, key infrastructure” that provide “entry points” to communities.
Garcia praised the library’s “amazing staff,” and thanked city government for its continued support. He said the system continues to pursue and realize improvements to its facilities and programming, and announced plans to extend hours at the William Hall Library later this month.
“We strive to create partnerships,” he said.
Garcia also pointed to the services the library provides to Cranston’s immigrant and non-English speaking community, noting that the citizenship classes the system hosts include people from 33 different countries.
“We have a thriving immigrant community here in the city,” he said.
Fung called it a “privilege” to accept the LibraryAware award on behalf of the city’s residents. He praised Garcia and the library’s staff and volunteers for the “significant accomplishment.”
“I know the hard work that they do in the library system every single day … It truly helps make Cranston one of the best places to live in America,” he said.
Fung also spoke of the library’s role in meeting the needs of an evolving community.
“Our city is a changing city … We have to break down a lot of those barriers of the traditional notion that the library’s just for kids. It’s not anymore,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed applauded Garcia’s “tremendous leadership, and spoke of the “vast, untapped potential” of libraries to help deliver a range of services.
A native of Cranston, he recalled visiting the former Auburn branch of the library system as a child.
“[I] found an extraordinary world [at the library] … and that experience, that community is still alive because of the efforts of Ed and the mayor and the others who are here today,” he said.
“[The library is] meeting the demands of a changing world, and doing it in a way that’s making the community stronger and better and more prepared to meet the challenges ahead.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin recognized Katy Dorchies, the library’s community engagement manager, for helping to spearhead the LibraryAware application. He also spoke of the “vital resource” libraries provide to many, including those who might otherwise have limited access to technology and the internet.
“I’m thrilled to see that Cranston’s being recognized,” he said.