The Oxford Library: So much more than books06/21/2021 11:18AM ● By Steven Hoffman
Libraries are the great equalizer. Not everyone has the latest technology. Not all children have a computer, printer, or even access to the internet. So where do they go? To the community library.
And it is not just children that need access to technology. Adults need computers when job searching, or sending in resumes. If they need to file for unemployment, like many have during the pandemic, they need access to a computer. Seniors filing for social security, or trying to locate and set up appointments for the COVID vaccine also need computers.
Individuals and families, no matter their socioeconomic status, can count on their libraries to provide them with the resources they need to succeed and the answers to important questions they can't otherwise find.
Carey Bresler, the director of the Oxford Library, takes her job seriously and is constantly searching for one more resource to provide to the community. In the recent presidential election, Bresler explained how the library stepped up to the plate to help the community.
“The Oxford Library served as a site for a satellite Chester County Voter Services office. People were able to register to vote, drop off their mail-in ballots and vote in person (during a certain period of time before Election Day),” she said.
According to the American Library Association (ALA), librarians in public and academic libraries across the country answer nearly 6.6 million questions every week. Librarians help their patrons not only find their next reading selection, but they also answer questions about computer and internet training, job applications and resume writing, and filling out government forms, including tax and health insurance paperwork. All of that help is free.
But something you may not know about the library is that they provide a safe refuge for the homeless and underserved populations. Many communities are not even aware that there is a homeless problem in their community, but the library knows there is.
Not only do they offer a safe and free refuge for those who need shelter, they also offer support to those in need.
“We don’t identify them, but there are some indicators,” Bresler said. “We are aware of some people, and as we serve them, they have told us. Serving the homeless and the underserved population has been has been a real challenge during the pandemic. Safety guideline that are in place limit us right now. We are trying to protect all of our populations. Things have opened up a little recently, but we still can’t accommodate as many people that we need to.”
She added, “It is not unusual to see a caseworker and their client meeting in the library. It is a safe and convenient meeting place for both.”
Libraries also boost the economy. They play a key role in financially strengthening the local community. They provide a work space for telecommuters, they supply free internet access for people looking for employment opportunities, and offer job and interview training for those in need. Mobile hotspots are also available for rental at the Oxford Library Circulation Desk.
According to the ALA, Pennsylvania’s 630 libraries, serving 12 million Pennsylvanians, provide a return on investment of $5.50 in benefits for every $1 of tax support, and if we didn't have public libraries, the economic loss would amount to $1.34 billion annually.
The library plays an important role in people's lives as a source of accessing information and a place for knowledge creation. Studies have shown that public libraries are important informational, educational, cultural, and social institutions.
According to the ALA, 73 percent of public libraries assist their patrons with job applications and interviewing skills, and 48 percent provide access and assistance to entrepreneurs looking to start a business of their own. In many cases, local governments work together with libraries to help small business owners by providing them with online and in-person resources, including financial guidance, contract opportunities, market information, business plans, and much more.
In helping individual community members financially succeed in their lives and with small businesses, libraries help entire communities succeed at boosting their economy and growing the local wealth.
Libraries also play an important role in learning the English language. The diversity in the local community continues to grow more and more every year, and libraries play a key role in that development. People from all over the world come to the U.S. looking for new opportunities for themselves and for their families, and English is often not their first language. Before they can find success, they need to find a place to learn a new language.
Libraries provide English language learners with the opportunity to immerse themselves in their new language, whether it be through periodicals, books, audiobooks, or resources online. Many libraries also offer multilingual books for adults and children that are designed to help new English learners master the language in a fun and engaging way. Increasingly, libraries are also expanding their collection of non-English books to help create a more inclusive environment for every kind of reader, no matter where they are from.
In addition to the physical resources libraries offer ESL learners, they also provide educational ones, including free language classes, bilingual housing and employment help, resource and contact information for adult education courses outside of the library.
And something often overlooked is how the library helps those speaking English learn another language. When businesses are multi-lingual, they are able to improve their bottom line by increasing their client base.
Learning another language also improves everyone’s opportunity in the job market, especially the quickly growing global market.
You might not realize it, but libraries also promote a healthier community.
From June through November you can see the Fresh2You Mobile Market truck at the Oxford Library. Brought to you by the Chester County Food Bank, the one-of-a-kind truck makes select stops throughout Chester County, bringing fresh, delicious, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Fresh2You accepts all forms of payment, including cash, credit/debit, SNAP/EBT and WIC or Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) checks. For customers shopping with SNAP/EBT or FMNP, Fresh2You can stretch your food budget by offering matching dollars in the form of Veggie Bucks. These can be used on any future purchases of fruits and vegetables during the Fresh2You season.
In the past the library also provided space for community gardens, which not only provided food, but taught those involved how to garden.
You probably don't think of it as a center for health and wellbeing, but in many cases, it is exactly that. Through community programs, direct librarian assistance, fitness classes, and basic internet access, libraries provide important equal access opportunities to those seeking health information and services.
According to a study by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 59 percent of libraries help patrons find health insurance resources, 18 percent bring in healthcare providers to offer free limited screening services, and 23 percent provide free fitness classes. Together with local governments, healthcare providers, and medical professionals, libraries keep communities healthier and increase their vitality in a way that makes a serious impact.
Libraries also preserve the local history. Archives of published newspapers, local history books, instructions on researching your local ancestry, and more can also be found at the library. Libraries, which house centuries of learning, information, history, and truth, are important defenders in the fight against misinformation.
More so than a community center, town hall, or public park ever could, libraries connect their communities in a way that benefits everyone. They pool local resources — from educational offerings to job training to homeless outreach to ESL learning — and put them all under one, welcoming roof for everyone to share.
The Oxford Library, for example, has developed a great relationship with the Oxford Arts Alliance. Before the pandemic, programs including local authors and artists, community art projects, joint fundraisers, antique appraisals or unique film discussions were mutually supported.
Most recently, the library was visited by New York Times bestselling author Doug Tallamy who spoke on his book, “Nature’s Best Hope.”
The pandemic has presented challenges, but the library has gone virtual with the programming. The library also offers a curbside pickup for patrons.
Bresler said, “Even with our limitations during the pandemic, our circulation has not gone down.”
The library is not fully funded by the state, but they do get funding from the county and local governments, both of whom have been very generous, according to Bresler. However, they do need to fundraise. Two exciting fundraisers are coming up quickly.
On July1, the library will hold its first virtual fundraiser titled, “Noveltea, a Night with Riley Sager.”
And from June 26 through July 11, the library will hold the Oxford Library Fish Tales Large Mouth Bass Tournament.
For more information on both fundraisers, or to find out what else the library offers, call 610-932-0625. The Oxford Library is located at 48 S. 2nd Street in Oxford.