By Molly Allen and Maureen Rust
The ability to educate community patrons on university library resources within a college town can become a daunting task, but community and liaison partnerships have made it possible at the James E. Brooks Library at Central Washington University (CWU).
As stated in its vision statement, the Brooks Library aspires to serve as the hub and academic town square of Kittitas County, supporting CWU students, faculty, and staff, as well as community members within the city of Ellensburg and neighboring communities of Roslyn, Cle Elum, Thorp, and Kittitas. The Brooks Library makes an effort to continuously partner with community entities such as the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce, Ellensburg Downtown Association, Ellensburg Rodeo Parade Committee, Kittitas County Farmer’s Market, Kittitas County Head Start Programs, First Book program, Kittitas County public and school librarians, our local Veterans associations, and the members of the Friends of the Brooks Library. Through these growing partnerships, the Brooks Library has played a key role in bridging the town-gown gap that is evident in many college towns.
The Brooks Library’s partnership with the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce stemmed from working together on the library’s most prominent fundraiser – the annual Evening at The Brooks. This yearly Gala and Silent Auction brings members of the local community into the library for an evening of mingling, dancing, and a tempting array of hors d’oeuvres. Guests enjoy dancing in the book stacks to the Ellensburg Big Band and listening to the tunes of saxophonist Lenny Price while they peruse the silent auction items donated by Kittitas County businesses. This partnership with the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce has paved the way for the library to attend many other Chamber sponsored events. Staff now attend a monthly Coffee Club, offering opportunities to network with local business owners and share information about our community resources with a vested audience. In addition, the Brooks Library has had the opportunity to partner with the Chamber to host a monthly networking event, Business After Hours, as well as a ribbon cutting for the opening of the library coffee shop, Jimmy B’s.
In addition to promoting its resources to the wider community, Brooks Library provides programming to increase literacy among Kittitas County families. One example of this is our participation in the First Book program. First Book is a non-profit organization that is committed to reducing illiteracy by providing access to free books. As a First Book distributor, Brooks Library regularly receives multiple copies of recommended books for a wide range of young readers. These books are then distributed to community agencies that serve low-income families in our community, including the local Rotary club, Stan Bassett Youth Center, CWU’s Family Literacy Program, Ellensburg Public Library, and the FISH (Friends in Service to Humanity) Food Bank. In September 2015 the Brooks Library worked with the Ellensburg Rodeo Parade Committee to participate in Ellensburg’s yearly Labor Day Weekend Rodeo Parade. Staff worked to turn an ordinary library book cart into a horse, complete with mane and saddle, to wheel through the Rodeo Parade. Along the route, staff handed out candy and bookmarks. Each bookmark had a coupon for a children’s book attached. The bookmarks encouraged local families to visit the library and redeem their coupons for new books.
When the community Early Head Start program at Bright Beginnings brings their home-based families to Brooks Library, our librarians put together a themed story time, using books from our Children’s Literature collection and providing a related craft. A recent visit welcomed children and their caregivers to listen to stories about Jazz. They were then treated to a saxophone concert by a member of our library staff and created their own “shaker” percussion instruments.
Every September, the Brooks Library hosts a Banned Books Week table at the Kittitas County Farmer’s Market, educating community members about the importance of the Freedom to Read Statement. This year, due to our participation in the network of public and school librarians throughout our county, we are working with our local public and school libraries to create additional programming supporting Banned Books Week for next fall.
Because of our collaboration with the Kittitas County Library Advisory Board, we were instrumental in the selection of this year’s One Book One Community title selection, Eating Wildly, a book that is featured by the CWU Lion Rock Writers’ Series. Book discussions are planned at all local public libraries. The book was also the featured title in the winter quarter Brooks Library book club. When the author, Ava Chin, visits CWU in April, members from all county book discussion clubs are invited to come hear her campus presentation.
We work closely with our campus Veterans Center and our community veterans associations to create programming that celebrates and recognizes the contribution our community veterans have made to our town, our county, and our country. In November 2015, we conducted a craft workshop at our public library that encouraged local community members to make placards and posters of veterans near to them to wave in the Veterans Day parade. Our local veterans groups, including the CWU Veterans Center, are currently consulting with us on an upcoming literary program that will include a community-wide reading of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, with planned related events.
Our relationship with librarians from the Ellensburg Public Library in our downtown core has continued to grow exceptionally strong. In May 2016, we will be joining the public library to offer a community-wide Spanish poetry evening and picnic, featuring readers from the faculty and students of CWU, as well as an opportunity for conversation practice.
We work closely with the members of our Friends of Brooks Library organization to support their mission as advocates for the library. The Friends Board of Directors is made up of library supporters from a variety of occupations from the campus, the town, and the further reaches of the county. The Friends host and promote their popular Annual Book Sale at Brooks Library, providing another opportunity for community members to visit the library and learn more about our resources. We partner with the Friends of the Library to produce a quarterly newsletter of library events. The newsletter is mailed, both print and digitally, to supporters of the library far and wide.
The Brooks Library’s continued involvement with community entities, combined with our ongoing pursuit to find new and unique ways to reach out and partner, rises to the goals of our vision statement. We have established numerous partnerships in the community that demonstrate our genuine devotion to bridging the town-gown gap, especially regarding information literacy and community patron services. In addition to our increasing community outreach efforts, we continue to promote the availability of our on-site library resources to all members of our community, welcoming them into the library to make use of the wide variety of information and services that are available to all.