News & Events

Initiative to make city healthier one library patron at a time

Antoinette Ayers speaks at the Healthy Living and Learning Center at the Petersburg Public Library, which is providing an opportunity for the community to enhance health knowledge. However, space is limited in the existing library.

Antoinette Ayers speaks at the Healthy Living and Learning Center at the Petersburg Public Library, which is providing an opportunity for the community to enhance health knowledge. However, space is limited in the existing library.

Tia Sanchez, health counselor that with the Petersburg Health Department, speaks during a Healthy Living and Learning Center event Thursday, June 27, at the Petersburg Public Library.

Tia Sanchez, health counselor that with the Petersburg Health Department, speaks during a Healthy Living and Learning Center event Thursday, June 27, at the Petersburg Public Library.

PETERSBURG – In a time when the health of the city faces huge challenges, the Petersburg Public Library has been at the forefront of the fight for healthier citizens.

For example, the library has taken a stand against the HIV epidemic. For decades, Petersburg has had the highest infection rate in the Tri-Cities and one that is significantly higher than that of the state.

Virginia Department of Health statistics state that Petersburg had 342 incidents of HIV in 2012. The Census Bureau estimated the population to be 31,973. This means that there were 10.7 cases per 1,000 people. The state rate is only three cases per 1,000. Comparisons by race are even more dramatic; 290 of the city’s 342 infected are African American.

But the Healthy Living and Learning Center, a partnership between the Petersburg Public Library System, the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center, is helping to combat the epidemic.

During a recent lecture, Petersburg residents had the opportunity to learn about the seriousness of the city’s AIDS and HIV epidemic. Participants also received free HIV testing from the Minority Health Consortium.

Tia Sanchez, a disease intervention specialist for the Crater Health District, stressed the dire health status of Petersburg as it relates to HIV and AIDS.

“Here in Petersburg we are in a huge battleground. It’s in our high school now,” she said. “I’m going to pediatrician offices to deliver results now.”

Juan Pierce, of the Minority Health Consortium, informed listeners of efforts between his group and the health department to curb rates of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

But staffers of the Healthy Living and Learning Center realize that HIV and AIDS are not the only health problems Petersburg faces.

This was just one in a series of monthly lectures on various health topics. Next month will focus on healthy skin care in the sun. The program’s primary initiative is to give patrons health advice from trained community health educators. The library also has health and wellness videos on loan as part of the initiative.

Healthy Living and Learning started in October 2012 after a series of town hall meetings the year before showed a public desire for a place to get free and accurate health information.

But the library struggled to find the space for the new program, which was originally located near the reference desk – until a ceiling collapse moved staffers to a small reference room to the left of the door. A shelf had to be removed from the collection to make room for the small desk and bookshelf needed. In the new Petersburg library, set to be completed this fall, the organization will have its own office.

Wayne Crocker, director of the Petersburg Public Library, said that he hoped that an office would, “make people feel more secure in sharing their health information.”

Experts in community health education from the three contributing organizations take turns staffing the program’s desk at the William R. McKenney Branch Library.

Antoinette Ayers, community health education specialist with the VCU Massey Cancer Center, emphasized the importance of getting clear and accurate health information. “The worst thing people can do is Google their health information and that’s for people who are computer literate,” she said.

Ayers is specifically trained as a consumer health specialist to insure that patrons receive clear and accurate health information. She and other staffers do not give medical advice but can guide patrons in the right direction.

Ayers has helped patrons navigate issues such as finding an appropriate diabetic diet, to directing them to local resources.

She connected one woman with triple negative breast cancer to the Pink Challengers, a breast cancer support group where she met another woman with the same condition.

Ayers also found a free clinic in a convenient location for a man who went to the emergency room for acid reflux.

She said that when they direct people away from the ER toward other services, it saves the city money.

Ayers encourages city residents of all walks to attend a lecture or stop by for advice. “There isn’t one person who doesn’t have a question about their health,” she said.

And a new library will help people find the health answers they need.

– For information about the library project or how you can help, please go to the website of the Petersburg Library Foundation at www.petersburglibraryfoundation.org or call 804-733-2387 ext. 35 How libraries stack up

There are roughly 16,600 public libraries in the United States. Every day, public libraries deliver millions of dollars in resources and support that help meed the needs of communities.

OCLC, a nonprofit library, cooperative produced research in 2010 on what libraries do. Among the findings:

– Taking care of business: 2.8 million times every month business owners and employees use resources at public libraries to support their small businesses.

– Hot spots: Most public libraries provide free Wi-Fi internet access for their users. Nearly 12,000 libraries offer the service, more than Starbucks.

– Job help: Every day 300,000 Americans get job-seeking help at their public library.

– Getting technical; More libraries – 5,400 – offer technology training classes than there are computer training businesses in the United States.

– Let’s meet: More public libraries offer free meeting space than there are conference centers, convention facilities and auditoriums. There are 10,800 libraries with free meeting space compares to 6,600 conference centers and other meeting centers.

– Career assistance: Americans turn to libraries when looking for a job; there are 13,000 libraries offer career assistance compared to the 3,000 One-stop Career Centers offered by the U.S. Department of Labor.

– No ticket required: Americans visit the library more than we go to the movies or sporting events. There are !.4 billion public library visits in the United States compared to 1.3 billion in movie attendance and 218 million in sporting event attendance.

– It’s in our wallet: Library cards are almost as prevalent as credit cards. There are 181 million credit card holders compared to 151 million public library card holders.

Program combating illiteracy to have offices in new library

 

Cleve Wright, who is part of the effort to raise money for the new structure, says a new library would help fill a key educational need in the city. 'Education in Petersburg is so important and a new library would be a central point for kids and adults as well,' he said.

Cleve Wright, who is part of the effort to raise money for the new structure, says a new library would help fill a key educational need in the city. ‘Education in Petersburg is so important and a new library would be a central point for kids and adults as well,’ he said.

PETERSBURG – Milton Thorpe describes the more than four decades of his life spent not knowing how to read as “hiding behind the mirror.” When he finally decided to embark on his journey to literacy a year-and-a-half ago, he decided to face himself head on and “look through the mirror.”

Thorpe decided that things had to change. In a moment of desperation, he found out about the READ Center, his solution to the problem. The center for Reading and Education for Adult Development, helps Central Virginia adults to become literate.

“That same day I was praying, it came across the radio:the READ Center,” he said.

And when the new Petersburg Library opens this fall, the READ Center will have a home there. That will be a key tool in the city’s long-term plan to fight adult illiteracy, supporters say.

Thorpe used the READ Center to change a lifetime of not reading. The 49-year-old had received his high school diploma after spending much of his time in school in special education classes but never learned how to read. Thorpe said that he didn’t receive much help and encouragement from his teachers who identified him as having a problem but continued to promote him without the extra help he needed.

“I always thought something was wrong with me because I didn’t get it as fast,” he said.

Thorpe was raised by his grandparents, who did not have much formal education themselves, so they were not truly aware of his issues.

“They thought that if they sent you to school then you were getting it,” he said.

Throughout his adult life, Thorpe learned to excel while hiding his illiteracy from others. At his job as a tractor-trailer driver, he was promoted to a supervisory position. Thorpe would delegate clerical tasks to others, while he focused on skills such as maintenance that were weak points for others.

Thorpe plans on improving his literacy skills to obtain his master’s in theology. He is currently a minister at Now Faith that works Christian Center.

“I’ve done everything else and now, I will do this too. I’m going to get to where I need to be,” he said.

Thorpe can now read the Bible in front of his congregation without embarrassment. “Now if I get up and mess up, so what? I am still on my way,” he said.

Thorpe said that nothing about learning to read was shameful except for putting it off.

“The only shame that comes out of it is when you don’t do it,” he said. “When you sit on the couch and say ‘no’ – time is slipping.”

Thorpe now encourages other adults to take the first step of seeking help.

“I tell anybody that’s hiding behind the mirror that they will always live in torment,” he said.

The READ Center helps 300 adults annually to become literate. The organization has classes in Petersburg, Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico and Hopewell with tutors in Colonial Heights and Hanover. It was founded in 1982 as the Literacy Council of Metropolitan Richmond by Altrusa International of Richmond, a professional women’s business club and became a non-profit in 1984. The name was changed to the READ Center in 1995.

n Petersburg, the program currently holds classes at Tabernacle Baptist Church and the Salvation Army Education Center but will now have an office in the new Petersburg Public Library. Harriet Scruggs, executive director, said that the organization is weighing whether to close the two locations when the library opens. It is projected to do so in the late fall.

Aside from being a relevant fit with the mission to improve literacy, Scruggs said that the new location is surrounded by less stigma.

“Everyone going into the library can read,” she said. “They will be able to maintain their anonymity and make it possible to keep their secret from the rest of the world until they are ready to let it know they are struggling, if ever.”

She said the new library’s location on Washington Street across from the Petersburg bus station is convenient for students using public transit.

Scruggs also pointed out that the library has the added benefit of children’s programs and books that can entertain them while parents are in class.

“It’s a beautiful one-stop shopping center the whole family can experience,” she said.

Laura Schoolcraft, a READ Center teacher, said that the library also provided the most obvious: books and reference materials.

Students at the Hopewell program are required to hold a library card, which is something the READ Center is planning for Petersburg.

Schoolcraft said the library environment itself is enriching and opens people up to another world.

“People that don’t read well tend to have a small life,” she said. “It could be a movie shown or a knitting class that gets them out of their tight circle.”

As for the need of such a program in the Tri-Cities, the READ Center points to 2010 census data of adults without GEDs or high school diplomas as prime indicators of illiteracy. Petersburg has the highest number adults who do not have either a high school diploma or GED at 27.82 percent, followed by Hopewell at 24.44 percent.

Schoolcraft said that everyone has their own reasons for starting late. On average, her students are in their 40s with a range from 18 to 70.

Some say it’s their turn now after putting children through school. Others are grandparents raising their grandchildren who are at a loss as to how to help with homework.

But no matter the reason, each student has personal goals to work toward with a tutor and larger one’s to accomplish with the class.

Larger goals include learning how to use a checking account and how to address letters. They also build computer literacy with tasks such as how to type, erase and save documents.

As far as individual goals, many have received jobs or have been promoted. Some have obtained their driver’s license because they can now read the test. Others can read food labels in the grocery store to avoid certain products for health reasons. One woman learned to read the bus routes so she could transfer from Hopewell to Petersburg.

Despite the goal, Schoolcraft said the moment that each student gets it feels the same.

“There’s those aha moments where you’ve made a connection and they get it,” she said. “It’s when you’re explaining a spelling or phonics skill and they are not just mimicking back to you.”

– For information about the library project or how you can help, please go to the website of the Petersburg Library Foundation at www..petersburglibraryfoundation.org or call 804-733-2387 ext. 35

Laura Schoolcraft teaches an adult literacy class for the READ Center at the Salvation Army Educational Center. She is helping her students to read and interpret the meaning of the Star Spangled Banner. The READ Center will move its office to the new Petersburg Public Library and is considering movings its classes there as well.

Laura Schoolcraft teaches an adult literacy class for the READ Center at the Salvation Army Educational Center. She is helping her students to read and interpret the meaning of the Star Spangled Banner. The READ Center will move its office to the new Petersburg Public Library and is considering moving its classes there as well.

Progress-Index
Leah Small-Staff Writer

Expanded tech services in library could enhance social and economic activity

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Dianne Nelson and Anne Rappe work on installing an app during an Electronic Petting Zoo at the Petersburg Public Library on June 27. The event helped patrons learn about electronic books, e-readers and other services available at the library.

Dianne Nelson and Anne Rappe work on installing an app during an Electronic Petting Zoo at the Petersburg Public Library on June 27. The event helped patrons learn about electronic books, e-readers and other services available at the library.

PETERSBURG – Something as simple as increasing the public’s access to computers can have a dramatic impact on the local economy. In an age when many employers only offer online job applications, access to computers is more important than ever. Studies show that library computers are a key resource for job seekers, but most branches nationally often do not have enough to meet patron demand.

This is the case for Petersburg’s William R. McKenney Branch Library, where there is often a line for the location’s 14 computer workstations. For those out of work and without a home computer, increased access is crucial. The new Petersburg library, set to be completed this fall, will house 60 new computers to ease the impact of current demand.

The American Library Association reports that since the recession, patron demand for technology resources has grown at the vast majority of libraries. As of last year, 76 percent of libraries now offer services to assist in the completion of online job applications – an increase of nearly 10 percent from three years ago. The study also concluded that 92.2 percent of libraries offer access to job databases and other online job resources.

Space constraints are an obstacle to providing more computers and other technology services in the existing McKenney branch. Coates Carter, IT solutions architect for Petersburg public libraries, said that if more workstations were added in the existing McKenney branch, some bookshelves would have to be removed to make room for computers.

The McKenney branch is not the only location to see lines of people waiting for computers. The national demand for library tech services has skyrocketed over the past 20 years. A study on technology use in libraries conducted by the American Library Association from 1994 to 2012, states that over 65 percent of libraries report an insufficient number of computers to meet demand some or all of the time. Also, a 2006 survey by Hart Research concluded that 70 percent of people on library computers only have access through this source.

A new library would not only improve joblessness, but would also ease the adjustment into an increasingly hi-tech world. More training services will be offered to patrons who want to become more computer literate.

The library currently holds computer classes only one day a week for an afternoon and evening session – but the new library would allocate enough space to hold classes anytime the library is open.

As of last year, The American Library Association reported that over 90 percent of libraries offered some sort of technology training.

The Petersburg library also seeks to offer training beyond just the standard desktop. Their Electronic Petting Zoo class allows patrons to learn how to use e-books and tablets and introduces them to the library’s own e-readers and digital collections. More sessions would be able to be offered because of expanded classroom space.

Dianne Nelson, a library patron, used a recent Electronic Petting Zoo class to better learn to use her tablet.

“Anything you can so to enhance the knowledge of people is wonderful,” she said about the class.

Such training is relevant nationally. The American Library Association concluded that as of 2012, 76.3 percent of libraries offer e-books, a 9.1 percent increase from the previous year.

A modern library also provides electronic databases that provide a slew of research on anything from genealogy, business, academics, health and more. A librarian can also point patrons to reliable databases instead of a generic search engine. A library can provide information to patrons no matter their age or background, said Virginia Cherry, who spent 45 years as a librarian before retiring last year as the library director at Richard Bland College.

“Libraries are important in all phases of life today,” Cherry said.

Technology offered at a library is also important to the business community. A study called “The Economic Value of the Free Library in Philadelphia” found that 8 percent of survey respondents reported that they could not have started, grown or improved their business without the library. That resulted in an estimated 8,630 businesses that benefited from library business development services, the study said.

“The availability of vast new online business information resources through public libraries is a vital resource for new entrepreneurs,” according to a report by The Urban Libraries Council. “Whether providing information on regulations associated with incorporating a new business, assisting with business plan development and registration, or helping small businesses access critical information on finance and product databases, local libraries are now providing more business resource information than ever before.”

Expanded technology services would also affect patrons with their own equipment who may not need other assistance.

Those who bring their own laptops for free Wi-Fi would benefit from a less spotty connection due to a new wireless infrastructure. Carter estimates that the current infrastructure is about 8 years old. The 60 new computers will also be equipped with Windows 7, newer than the Windows XP operating systems on the current workstations.

Patrons can also take advantage of the new technology with greater ease and comfort. New study spaces will be added with plug-in areas in the library’s rotunda and other areas.

They will also be able to take advantage of little perks such as more copy and fax services and electronic doors.

On the back end, technology improvements would save the library money and promote green energy usage. Workstations called thin clients, which Carter describes as “a small, inexpensive PC that connects back to a server” would save on energy, licensing and other costs. Basically, Windows would be loaded onto the server connected to the computers instead of the individual computers.

New technology would also be used to keep an older medium safe and sound.

Radio Frequency ID is an electronic alarm system that will be installed in all of the books and at the front door of the library. The system will keep books that have not yet been checked out from leaving the building.

New audio and visual services will be offered to patrons as well. Patrons will now be able to use video teleconferences to directly contact sources outside of the library.

Carter said these services have the potential to be used for multiple events such as town hall meetings and lectures from universities such as Virginia State University and Virginia Commonwealth University.

The potential programs for the new audio visual components have not been worked out yet but Carter said that dreaming up the possibilities is part of the potentially positive impact of a new library.

“How we use it has yet to be seen and that’s exciting.”

– For information about the library project or how you can help, please go to the website of the Petersburg Library Foundation at www.petersburglibraryfoundation.org or call 804-733-2387 ext. 35

Progess-Index
BY LEAH SMALL (STAFF WRITER)

Increased space for children’s programs could boost child literacy

Magician Wes Iseli performs a show for the Petersburg Public Library's summer reading program Wednesday at the Tabernacle Baptist Church Community Life Center.

Magician Wes Iseli performs a show for the Petersburg Public Library’s summer reading program Wednesday at the Tabernacle Baptist Church Community Life Center.

PETERSBURG – A room full of children sat cross-legged anticipating the next sleight of hand by magician Wes Iseli. The disappearing acts and other illusions were part of a magic show hosted at Tabernacle Baptist Church as part of the Petersburg Public Library’s summer reading program.

Telka Parham, who brought children from the summer camp Journey to Success, said that the program was an unexpected surprise.

“I didn’t know that they had a program like this because it’s a library, so you think about them having reading all the time and stuff like that,” she said.

But Janet Sullivan, acting children’s coordinator, said that movement and interaction is important to learning as well. “Everything doesn’t have to be about books but a more stimulated mind is better reached by books,” she said.

The library works to stimulate active minds through programs that emphasize movement, music and other activities through its summer program and other initiatives. But such active programs require space that the current William R. McKenney Branch Library just does not have. The library’s children’s programs compete with the other initiatives for use of a single 1,000-square-foot basement space. This is the largest and most convenient place the library has to hold large gatherings. As a result, multiple programs compete for time slots for the same room. Less services are offered because these activities cannot be held at the same time. The library is often required to hold its larger programs at Tabernacle Baptist Church or travel to schools and day care centers.

But this will change when the new library building is completed by the end of fall. An additional 3,895 square feet of space will be added just for children’s programs – about three times more space than the existing area. In addition to this general space, 572 square feet will be added for an area just for teens, and 700 square feet for an “imagination station.”

The teen area will have computers and student spaces just for adolescents. Online tutoring through Literati, a service already offered by the library, will be expanded through the addition of more computers.

Also, for elementary students, more computers with touch screen learning games will be added.

The “imagination station” will further expand the library’s mission to cultivate active and stimulated young patrons. Children will be able to play dress-up and use their imaginations. It would also serve as a staging area for story time.

Sullivan emphasized that libraries are essential to developing children into avid learners and readers.

“You have to get them young,” Sullivan said. “They must read on level by third grade or there is an exponential knowledge loss.”

A University of Chicago study links reading on level by third grade with future academic performance and indicated a direct correlation between this milestone and college attendance. Out of the 26,000 Chicago school children sampled from reading test data from 1996 to 1997, 38 percent were below grade level for reading, while 50 percent were at grade level, and 12 percent were above.

Out of those reading below grade level in the third grade, fewer than 20 percent attended college. This is compared to about a third of students who were at grade level attending college, and nearly 60 percent of students who were reading above grade level.

Studies also indicate that libraries are essential to increasing literacy and in turn, academic achievement.

A Colorado State library study linking the change in school librarian staffing with reading scores, showed a positive trend when there was a librarian on site. From 2005 to 2011, schools that either gained or maintained a librarian tended to have more students scoring advanced in reading. Since 2005, performance in school with librarians surpassed schools without librarians by about 45 percent to 49 percent. Sullivan also stressed the importance of the role of parental involvement in increasing literacy. Recognizing this, the library plans on offering more story time sessions because of the increased space. During family story time sessions, librarians plan to work with parents to help them better engage their children while reading to them, and to get children more excited about literacy.

Sullivan said that family involvement sets children up to be “lifelong learners.”

“What a lot of parents fail to realize is that they are their child’s first teacher,” she said. “They have to work with them to grasp the importance of literacy.”

– For information about the library project or how you can help, please go to the website of the Petersburg Library Foundation at www.petersburglibraryfoundation.org or call at 804-733-2387 ext. 35

New library will help create a sense of community

 

Wayne Crocker, director of the Petersburg Public Library, says a new library will offer more room and expanded services to the community.Wayne Crocker, director of the Petersburg Public Library, says a new library will offer more room and expanded services to the community.

Virginia Cherry

Virginia Cherry

PETERSBURG – In a time when social analysts lament the loss of community – a library could be the place to cultivate the seeds of one. Multiple factors point to libraries as being strong and positive anchors for American cities.

Simply put, libraries help create a sense of community while providing opportunities for children, students, adults and entrepreneurs.

“Petersburg has a need for a new library,” said Cleve Wright, a lifelong Petersburg resident and retired insurance executive who is part of the effort to raise money for the new structure. “Education in Petersburg is so important and a new library would be a central point for kids and adults as well. It’s a win-win,” he said.

A new and expanded library set to open its doors in late fall, would bring more literacy programs to adults and children, along with greater access to technology, health information and business resources. Petersburg has in past years struggled with illiteracy – in 2000 the city had a 22 percent adult illiteracy rate, one of the highest in Virginia.

Wayne Crocker, director of the Petersburg Public Library, has been working for years in the effort to bring a modern, state-of-the-art facility to the city. He has told anyone who would listen that the benefits of a new library are innumerable – from increased literacy, more programs for children and adults, economic development and a central gathering place for the community. But in general a new library means opportunity for all.

Crocker summed up his views earlier this year during a dome raising ceremony. On a steel beam, Crocker wrote: “All things are possible.”

Virginia Cherry, who spent 45 years as a librarian before retiring last year as the library director at Richard Bland College, said a library is not only an educational facility but a key part of a community. “New libraries have become the cornerstones of downtown and lots of cities have followed that concept,” Cherry said. “A library is a key to a strong community.”

Famed industrialist Andrew Carnegie saw the benefit of a free space where knowledge is readily accessible. He donated more than $40 million for the construction of 1,679 library buildings in communities across America. He cited building strong communities as a primary motivator. “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people,” he said. “It is a never failing spring in the desert,” he said.

Public opinion also points to libraries having a role in building communities that go beyond literacy.

A study conducted on behalf of the Wisconsin Public Library system indicated that “the role of the library as a community gathering place was stressed repeatedly at focus group sessions. Whether discussing concerts, classes, and other events, book clubs and other social groups, or simply a forum where people could come and sit, talk, and read, quite a few people expressed their appreciation that libraries stand alone in many communities as a gathering place.”

A study called “The Public Place of Central Libraries: Findings from Toronto and Vancouver” made clear the central role of a library in a community. “It seems clear that the central library is, indeed, central to the life activities of large numbers of people, is an important space in which public culture is constructed and lived, and thus has a deep sense of place attachment for its users. The central library attracts all ages and linguistic groups, has a well-educated clientele, and is regarded as a safe and appropriate destination for women, children, and men.”

Robert McNulty of Partners for Livable Communities, an organization that focuses on city revitalization, told the Seattle Times that libraries were the essential heart of many community functions. He said that they foster literacy, provide internet access, a film center and a place for lectures, performing arts and exhibitions. They also serve as coffee houses, an information center for tourists and a safe place for kids.

Its location on Washington Street across from the city’s bus station would also provide easier access for those who depend on public transportation. And the new library is expected to help spur development in the surrounding area. Even the increased foot traffic that the library should bring downtown will benefit businesses in the area, supporters say.

So far, the community has contributed to building the new 45,000-square-foot library. More than $10.4 million has been raised – from individuals, groups, foundations and Petersburg’s city government – as the fundraising campaign nears the $12.7 million goal. But now the push is on to raise the rest of the money before construction is wrapped up this fall.

In the coming days The Progress-Index will show readers what building blocks a new library would provide to the community in a five-part series entitled “What a new library can do for you.” The aim is to present the benefits of expanded programs in the areas of health, children and adult literacy, and technology that will be featured when the library opens its doors this fall.

– For information about the library project or how you can help, please go to the website of the Petersburg Library Foundation at www.petersburglibraryfoundation.org or call at 804-733-2387 ext. 35

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