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Nevada County Library releases innovative plan moving forward

Lorraine Jewett
Special to The Union
Nevada County Librarian Yolande Wilburn (left) confers with Amy Garmer, Director of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries, at a roundtable dialogue at the Gold Miners Inn in August.
Photo by Lorraine Jewett

A new report suggests ways local libraries can help promote lifelong learning, economic and workforce development, and community wellness within Nevada County.

The 30-page report, issued Wednesday by the Aspen Institute and shared by the Nevada County Library, is entitled “Rising to the Challenge: Creating Pathways for Learning, Innovation and a Resilient Community.”

The document is the product of a day-long conference held in Grass Valley in August. The report details strategic initiatives and steps that will help tie local libraries to the overall goals of Nevada County.

“I am working to advance collaborative ideas and initiatives sparked by the Nevada County Dialogue that improve life for all community members,” said Nevada County Librarian Yolande Wilburn.

A select group of 27 leaders from local libraries, government, business, education and nonprofits participated in an eight-hour moderated roundtable discussion in August. After the conference’s morning session involving all participants, the group was divided into three working groups: Lifelong Learning, Economic and Workforce Development, and Community Health and Wellness.

The Lifelong Learning working group discussed extending library use beyond the traditional times when people access libraries: childhood, parenthood, job changes, relocation, a health crisis, or when addressing the needs of an aging family member.

The working group focused on the lack of early literacy programming for children, especially during the critical first five years of a child’s life. Currently, local libraries give library cards to residents 5-years-old and older. The group suggested library cards be available at birth at the discretion of parents, which would help embed the library into lives of early learners. Another suggestion was imposing no fines or fees on youth under age 18.

County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay said he will work to build a child development center, and the group identified other potential partners such as Truckee Head Start programs, Nevada County hospitals and jails, and real estate companies that could provide informational welcome pamphlets and library card applications.

“At the Nevada County Dialogue on Public Libraries, we learned from several of the stakeholders present that there is a need to serve infants,” said Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay. “We started developing a plan for an infant care program, under the auspices of the Superintendent of Schools Office and housed under one roof for our parents’ convenience, that could partner with the libraries and other county services.”

The Economic and Workforce Development working group discussed leveraging the library as a trusted information center and non-political hub to bolster a resilient local economy by offering networking opportunities for the county’s workers.

The third working group, Community Health and Wellness, explored physical, mental and emotional health issues. One suggestion was to survey county residents each year about access to health and wellness information. That survey information, combined with data from other public health surveys, might help pinpoint health and wellness gaps and allow the library to tailor programs to meet those needs.

The August meeting was convened by the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries, a nonprofit organization that authored the 2014 landmark report, “Rising to the Challenge: Re-envisioning Public Libraries.” The Nevada County conference was funded with a portion of a $200,000 grant from the California State Library.

Nevada County’s libraries were chosen, in part, because of the strong financial support they receive from the community. The institute cited passage of ballot Measure A in 2016, which created a 15-year, quarter-cent sales tax that raises about $4 million each year for library services.

Since August, Nevada County Librarian Wilburn has become a valuable partner with the prestigious Aspen Institute, contributing to various panels and roundtable discussions. She’s slated to participate in the institute’s session, “Beyond Connectivity: Gigabit Network Use in California Public Libraries.”

“This is to be a policy dialogue among 25 to 30 leading thinkers from the media, technology, education, civic sectors, and California librarians,” Wilburn said.

Wilburn said local libraries will continue to reach out to other organizations to help create a healthier community.

“It’s not necessarily people’s physical health, although that is a part of it,” said Wilburn. “It’s about ensuring children from early pre-school ages and all people are literate, educated, able to progress to get employment, secure housing, and be physically and mentally healthy to create a resilient community that can sustain itself indefinitely.”

The Aspen Institute’s complete report is available on the Nevada County Library website.

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. Contact her at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.


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