Recently, I visited the Pottstown Regional Public Library and was extremely impressed with their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) efforts to support the needs of their community in the face of shifting demographics.
During my visit, the Youth Services Department was buzzing with Spanish-speaking families seeking books for their children. Melissa Velez was interacting with the families in their native Spanish, helping them feel comfortable and fostering a sense of belonging as patrons of the library.
Melissa shared with me that they currently have 4 monthly events: Bilingual story time, African-American story time, the Digital Literacy Workshop, and the NAACP book club. The library also hosted a visit from Library of Accessible Media for PA (LAMP) this month. Melissa also told me that they create displays to showcase the materials they have available for immediate check-out that touch upon these different subjects and perspectives.
Melissa went on to explain their process of incorporating DEIB into the library’s collections – she closely follows the library’s collection development policy. She shared that, “the central tenet of the policy is that we will (budget and space permitting) acquire materials that will meet the needs of our community. We learn about the needs based on patron requests, population data from the census, and communication from the government agencies that we work with.”
While such efforts are not always immediately embraced, Melissa shared that the library has had a good reaction from the community, which has been very accepting of the infusion. She told me that, “As part of the mission of the library, we are a welcoming space to anybody with no requirements of usage to be in the building.”
Executive Director Mindy Lipsky’s commitment to upholding the library’s mission – to be “a welcoming, inclusive safe public space” – has helped the library to navigate some of the challenges of maintaining an inclusive library. Melissa shared that as an urban library, they have a number of patrons who are unhoused and spend their day at the library and that the library has experienced some pushback because of this. However, they have been able to navigate this challenge by leaning on that commitment to the policy and the mission.
Melissa summed up for me that:
We are very proud of the work that we do at the library, and we are always open to suggestions on how we can better serve all of our patrons. Our mission and vision are aligned to meet DEIB at all times. We are always working towards strengthening our community by making sure that everyone has access to resources and that they are aware that we are a safe and welcoming space.
As towns across Pennsylvania experience shifting demographics, public libraries are considering how to meet the needs of their growing communities. I hope that sharing the work the Pottstown Regional Public Library has done will inspire other libraries as they continue this work.
Incorporating DEIB efforts into your library’s operations can be fraught with financial, social, and political challenges. HSLC is here to help. We invite you to fill out our Consultation Request Form to find out how we can assist you in navigating this important work successfully.
Nicole Joniec, Digital Collections Specialist