The value of a public library to your community


By Jeanne Steffener, Tulalip Tribes Higher Education 

Public libraries are strongly valued by Americans because they provide access to a range of materials and resources, promote literacy and improve the over quality of life in a community. In an economic impact-analysis that was recently conducted by Indiana University, public libraries reported a return of $2.38 to the community for every dollar of investment. In another similar study in San Francisco, it was found that $3.34 was the return for each dollar invested.

Over the years, communities have tried to measure the value that libraries provide through their collections (books, dvd’s, ebooks, magazines, etc.), programming, internet access, services to job seekers and businesses and other demonstrated economic return. Actually, the numbers do not really capture the total picture and it is very difficult to apply a specific dollar amount to the incalculable social good that libraries provide to a community.

We do know that a majority of Americans use their public library and in survey after survey we learn that approximately 71% of Americans think that libraries spend their money wisely. In fact, in a recent Pew Research Center survey a vast majority of Americans over 16 years of age said that public libraries play an important role in their community:

  • 95% of Americans ages 16 and older said that materials and resources available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed.
  • 95% said that public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading.
  • 94% said that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community
  • 81% said that public libraries provide many services people would have a hard time finding anywhere else.


Some of services that Americans strongly value in their public libraries include access to books and media; having a quiet, safe place to spend time, read or study; and access to librarians who are most willing to help people find the information they need. Libraries are particularly valued by those who are unemployed, retired, searching for a job, those living with disabilities, internet users who lack home internet services, students and moms with young children.

In a recent article in the Everett Herald, we learned about Joshua Safran who found out as a child that the Stanwood Library was more than a place to check out books. It was a refuge from the chaos of his life and an escape into books and the Dewey Decimal System1 that the librarians introduced to him. He is now a nationally recognized author, attorney and advocate for victims of domestic violence. In June of this year, he came back to the Stanwood Library, his childhood sanctuary to talk about his memoir “Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid”. NEWS01 /150629263/Victims

This compelling story is an example of the impact our local public libraries imprint on our lives and communities in a strong, measureable way which cannot be equated to dollars and cents.

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1 Dewey Decimal System is a numerical classification system which allows new books to be added to a library in their appropriate location based on subject. The classification’s notation makes use of three-digit Arabic numerals for main classes, with fractional decimals allowing expansion for further detail. The number makes it possible to find any book and return it to its proper place on the library shelves.

Colleges aim to attract more Native American students

Colleges are introducing new programs targeting prospective Native American students, hoping to show that higher education and their cultural identities can complement each other.

Few Native Americans go to college and most of those who do never graduate. To improve those statistics, more colleges are offering camps where teens from different tribes are exposed to college life. In this image, Native American, Brandon Duran plays during a drum circle before workshop sessions at University of California, Riverside on Thursday, June 26. Photo/ Chris Carlson, AP
Few Native Americans go to college and most of those who do never graduate. To improve those statistics, more colleges are offering camps where teens from different tribes are exposed to college life. In this image, Native American, Brandon Duran plays during a drum circle before workshop sessions at University of California, Riverside on Thursday, June 26.
Photo/ Chris Carlson, AP

By Krysta Fauria, Associated Press

Elijah Watson knows he wants to go to college. He also knows that it will be difficult to leave home on the Navajo reservation if he does.

The 17-year-old was reminded of the tough decision he’ll face next year when he participated in a weeklong celebration in March of his cousin’s Kinaalda, a hallowed Navajo ceremony marking a girl’s transition into womanhood.

“I’m afraid because it’s really hard to leave my family,” he said, noting that college would mean he’d be away from taking part in the same rite for his little sister and participating in other important tribal ceremonies.

To reach students like Watson with higher education aspirations, a growing number of universities are offering programs to recruit and prepare Native American students for a transition to college life that can bring on a wrenching emotional conflict as they straddle two worlds.

Many young Native Americans find themselves divided by their desire for a higher education and the drive to stay close to home to hold onto a critical part of their identity. Sometimes, families discourage children from pursuing college, fearing once they leave the reservation they won’t come back.

That was the case with Watson’s mother — his grandmother encouraged her to stay home and carry on the family tradition of pottery-making.

“These students could be in a classroom with hundreds of kids and no one will be like them so it’s really good for these programs to pull all of these kids together,” said Ahniwake Rose, the director of the National Indian Education Association.

“Moving to college for these kids is taking them so far away from their homes. On top of that, we still have so many first generation students and their parents can’t give them any idea of what college is like,” Ms. Rose said.

Dozens have implemented mini-college boot camps, including the University of California, Los Angeles, Yale, and Duke. Last week, Watson found himself at the University of California, Riverside, where he was joined by other students, including some as young as 12.

The programs challenge the idea that tribal customs and higher education don’t mix, said Joshua Gonzalez, the director of Native American Student Programs at the university 60 miles east of Los Angeles and hundreds of miles from Watson’s home on the Navajo Nation.

Throughout their week at Riverside, students got a taste of the college experience by attending classroom lectures, eating in the cafeteria and sleeping in the dorms. The 30 students also participated in cultural activities like prayer circles and beading workshops.

“We encourage having your culture and traditions as well as academics,” said Mr. Gonzalez, whose program has a roughly 90 percent success rate in getting Native Americans to go to college.

“To be able to know your language, to be able to sing the songs, to know the creation stories — those are things that are really important,” he said.

Upon completion of Riverside’s program, students are given access to the university’s resources and staff to assist with the application process.

Pamela Agoyo, the director of American Indian Student Services at the University of New Mexico, said many programs are introducing kids to the idea of college as early as middle school to give them the time to embrace the possibility and plan for it.

“Institutions are realizing that you don’t start planning for college your freshman year of college,” Ms. Agoyo said, noting that students need to plan and prepare for their experience beforehand.

Rose said the boot camps are critical to college success because they help identify peers and mentors who can guide students through rough patches.

Few go on to college and when they do, most drop out.

Only 12 percent of Native Americans between 25 and 34 have four-year degrees, compared to 37 percent of whites, according to a 2012 report by the National Center for Education Statistics. Of the students who do go to college, less than 40 percent graduate, compared to 60 percent of whites.

Jordan Thomas, a member of the Lummi Tribe, attended Riverside’s program and will be a freshman there this fall. She was born on a reservation in Washington state and at age 2 moved with her family to Southern California because there were more educational opportunities.

Lummi cultural traditions are important to her family — she once missed eight weeks of middle school to attend her grandfather’s burial ceremony — and the Riverside program gave her confidence that she can attend school and not lose her Native American identity.

“I learned that it’s all about balance,” she said. “This program has truly helped me.”

Senate Hearing Today Will Examine Higher Education for Indians

ed.govJamienne Studley, U.S. deputy under secretary of education, will testify today before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
Jamienne Studley, U.S. deputy under secretary of education, will testify today before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Source: Department of Education, June 11, 2014

Jamienne Studley, U.S. deputy under secretary of education, will testify today before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs as part of an oversight hearing entitled, “Indian Education Series: Examining Higher Education for American Indian Students.”

Studley will discuss the U.S. Education Department’s efforts to expand educational opportunities and improve educational outcomes for Native American students through college access, affordability and completion. The administration remains committed to working with tribes and supporting tribal colleges and universities to ensure that all American Indian and Alaskan Native students have high-quality educational experiences that prepare them for careers and productive lives.

The administration views college completion as an economic necessity and a moral imperative. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, while the average public high school graduation rate for all students has increased six points, from approximately 75 percent in 2007-08 to 81 percent in 2011-12, the high school graduation rate for American Indian/Alaskan Native students over the same period rose by only four points, from 64 to 68 percent.

To find out more about the Department’s efforts to make college more accessible, affordable and high-quality, click here.

In addition, President Barack Obama’s Opportunity for All: My Brother’s Keeper Blueprint for Action report was released recently, outlining a set of initial recommendations and a blueprint for action by government, business, non-profit, philanthropic, faith and community partners to expand opportunities for boys and young men of color—including American Indians and Alaskan Natives—to help them stay on track and reach their potential.