WESTMINSTER WEST — The Westminster West Public Library was one of 517 U.S. libraries to receive grants through the “Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries” program of the American Library Association (ALA).
Participating libraries will receive training in how to lead conversations, a skill vital to 21st-century librarianship. Library workers will complete a free ALA e-course on basic facilitation skills, host at least one conversation with community members on a chosen topic, and receive $3,000 to support community engagement efforts.
According to Westminster West Public Library board member Emily Weinberg, the library teamed with a local grassroots group called Living Earth Action Group (LEAG) to receive the grant.
The ALA says grant funds may cover a range of expenses, including staff time and collections and technology purchases.
Weinberg said the library will partner with LEAG “to provide a forum for these conversations. LEAG has established itself as a resource dedicated to empowering humans to heal their planet. Together, we will lead community members to discuss how our lives are affected by COVID-19 and other world problems and ways we can heal ourselves while also healing the planet.”
She said some ideas for talks “include the Covid vaccine, regenerative farming techniques, and Abenaki Indigenous wisdom for all. It is our intention to empower people of all ages through these meetings and share a sense of hope and pride as we face the future.”
Building a positive vision
Weinberg believes these discussions are critical to create a positive vision of the future for Vermont - and the world.
“The next decade seems tainted by injustices, environmental strains, global poverty, and media confusion,” she said. “We all grapple with the relentless challenges of Covid, global warming, the opioid crisis, and a general sense of powerlessness in our democracy. We particularly see a need for young people to buy into a sense of optimism and hope.”
“We think this project can build trust and optimism at a time when it is greatly needed,” she added.
Discussion topics are broad, she said, but they are “all related to personal action and environmental healing, and intended to empower individuals to think about ways they can make a healthy impact for themselves, each other, and the planet.”
One of the first discussions, “Healthy Humans,” is intended to “generate dialogue related to environmental stewardship, friendship, and community,” Weinberg said. “We think it is important for all humans to reflect on the ways we can inspire each other to be healthy and promote healthy living choices.”
She said the library came to this initial idea for this project “because this year with the pandemic has brought fear, loss, and uncertainty to our small rural community. We want to bring our community to actively feel as if they can be part of a healing process for themselves, each other, and the planet.”
Westminster West is in a particularly favored position to address these concerns.
“Our community is characteristically kind and generous,” said Weinberg. “This small village has come together many times in the past decades to make our community better.”
“We have preserved a ridgeline of thousands of acres, town-funded a recycling curbside program, and improved our schools,” she said. “We have a need to celebrate our achievements and set new goals for ways to stay healthy, inclusive, and environmentally conscientious.”
Weinberg said the funds will be used broadly, with $1,000 for staff time to support the development and implementation of the project, $500 for website upgrades, and $500 for new books related to the topics of healthy humans and stewardship of the Earth, with a special shelf for books recommended by LEAG.
Other uses include $650 for a new computer for the librarian, $200 for a Zoom Business account for the library, and $150 for library supplies for new books, such as cellophane covers, shelving, and stickers.
Little library, big impact
Last fall, the ALA announced plans to award nearly $2 million to small and rural libraries in 2020 and 2021 to help them address issues of concern in their communities, with a goal of aiding libraries in small and rural communities to tackle issues ranging from media literacy to COVID-19 safety to unemployment.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) defines small communities as those with a legal-service-area population of 25,000 or fewer. It defines rural communities as those who live at least 5 miles from an urbanized area.
The village of Westminster West fits that category. Its library may be one of the smallest in Vermont, but Weinberg said it has a big impact on village life.
“When people move to the area, the library is the first place they go to meet neighbors and make local friends,” she said. “We have moved much of our programming online due to Covid guidelines. We are still allowed to have some open hours for a limited occupancy because we are so small.”
“Things keep changing, but we are working hard to keep this community library active,” she said.
The biggest initiative for the library is fundraising in order to digitalize and automate with the Catamount Library Network, a consortium of libraries using an open-source, multi-library shared catalog and integrated library system.
“We plan to be connected in 2021,” said Weinberg. “We will add more open hours, and patrons will be able to browse from the Catamount collection and order books and services from home. This will make the library and its services even more accessible.”