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Safe, Learning Places

Libraries Provide Social Services

Branches of the Metropolitan Library System are helping deliver needed social services and so are libraries throughout the state.

For example, the Norick Downtown Library provides help to parents wanting to have the library take care of their children during working hours.

Dana Shearer is one such parent and she takes her three youngest sons to the downtown branch.

She knows they’ll want to spend time at the craft table.

Then, the two younger boys—ages 4 and 5—will make use of the computers there to play online games.

Mrs. Sherer’s 8-year-old will want to see a book or play at a different station before joining his brothers. After an hour or two, they’ll need time to run around outside. Then, they’ll come back in and start over.

“Kids this age are like sponges,” Mrs. Shearer, 41, said. “I had to grow up with my older kids. I didn’t get to just be a mom and have fun with my kids.

“I was dealing with things like domestic violence, my mom’s death.

“I wasn’t able to be still and enjoy it.”

The 41-year-old mother and her boys come to the library a few times a week to learn, to relax, to have fun. It’s a refuge from spending time in a shelter or living in a motel room, which is currently where Mrs. Shearer’s family is staying.

“There are stages of life, but there are always positives,” the mother commented. “The library is one of those positives. You can get online, you can look for jobs, they do activities with the kids or you can just read.”

This is a narrative familiar to those who run public libraries in Oklahoma and across the nation.

Libraries have long been central to communities by providing entertainment, access to information and resources and connection to service organizations, among many other things, said Melody Kellogg, director of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.

But as state funding for social services has declined over the years and shelters are full and busy, libraries have seen an increase in patrons who are extremely low-income, who may have mental health concerns or who are experiencing homelessness.

“There is a trend that we’ve been watching for a greater need for general social services,” Mrs. Kellogg remarked. “Because of the current funding for other social services, I think we have seen an increase in how libraries have been serving this population.”

“In some cases, libraries become de facto day shelters,” she explained. “We don’t kick people out for loitering. It’s quite OK if you want to come in and read all day.

“It’s a safe place for someone to come and spend time because not only is it dangerous to be homeless, it’s also quite boring.”

One of the main services libraries provide is access to the Internet.

It is usually assumed that someone has a computer at home or a Wifi connection, but that is not always the case,” Mrs. Kellogg went on.

But having internet access is vital--most job applications are online, many social services require individuals to register on a website and, for some, social media outlets are the only way to connect with family and friends, she pointed out.

She said libraries have a sometimes unnoticed role of ..To read more, subscribe to the blackchronicle newspaper