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Not Your Mama's Library

When we were little, we went to the library to check out books. As adults, we were delighted to find out they also had CDs and DVDs. But the Pikes Peak Library District (PPLD), arguably one of the most innovative in the nation, offers so much more these days. 

At the library, you can: search your family tree, make a wedding dress, get a high school diploma, record an album of music and learn all sorts of skills that will make your life more meaningful. All for free. 

Media Matters

Library 21C has a video and audio recording studio, with technical help when it comes to, well, all the technical stuff. The Sand Creek Library, in southeastern Colorado Springs, has an audio recording studio. 

They’ve been used for commercial, instructional and music videos. They even have some musical instruments, like keyboards, available for use. And there’s an orientation class you take to help you learn how to use the equipment, as well as classes in such things as lighting, sound engineering and video editing. 

One library patron just finished recording her first album, says Abby Simpson, one of the library’s regional managers.

The recording studios are booked for almost every hour they are open, and they’d extend hours if they had the staff, says Chief Librarian and CEO John Spears. 

Making Things

Another creative outlet can be experienced at the “maker spaces” at 21C, Sand Creek and East libraries. These rooms are set aside for everything from painting large canvases to sewing costumes, with access to specialized sewing machines, computerized engraving machines and 3-D printers. There’s even a pottery kiln at the Sand Creek site. Sometimes someone needs to duplicate a knob from an antique dresser, or some teens want to create their own unique clothing. 

“We even had someone come in and create their own board game,” says Amy Rodda, head of the Adult Services Division.

“One of my favorite things is when someone comes in with something they need to replicate,” says Joanna Rendon, the library’s head of young adult services. 

“My favorite story is about a young man who was deaf and blind and had this plastic device that helped him communicate. He had broken it and we were able to help him replicate it. It almost makes me cry to talk about it.”

And not only do the users of the spaces get help from staff members, “the other ‘makers’ also try to help them. It becomes a community project,” she says.

Lots of Learning

Many of the library programs are held in open spaces, to invite everyone in, Spears says.

“You might see people making Mother’s Day cards, and there are businessmen from downtown as well as homeless guys working side by side. I love that.”

There are several ways a high-school drop-out can go back and get a GED – an equivalency to a high school degree. But the library’s Career Online High School offers a real diploma. 

The library has offered adult education classes, including ESL tutoring, for 40 years, and the GED is among them, but this program is more comprehensive and accredited, Spears says. Coaches and tutoring are available, and those who qualify for the course must complete it in 18 months. Their first graduate, in December 2017, did it in six months.

“She was amazing,” Spears says. PPLD “probably has one of the largest adult education programs of any library in the U.S.,” he adds.

Creating Community

The library district also is the only one in Colorado participating in the national Safe Place program. If someone comes into a library looking for help, they’ll get it, he says. 

“If we can’t help them, we know who can,” he adds. In fact, the district is hiring a full-time social worker this fall to do just that.

Staff workers are either trained, or being trained in the use of Narcan, an antidote for certain drug overdoses. 

“We’ve already saved somebody’s life,” Spears says.

Why is a library helping homeless people find help? Why is it reaching out to suicidal teens? Why does it have a Family Place at some libraries where children can play and surreptitiously be evaluated for developmental skills while parents share support for each other’s issues? Why does it cater to the military population like never before?

“It’s all related,’ Spears says. “It’s all part of our core mission.”

In fact, the library’s official mission statement is: “Providing resources and opportunities that impact individual lives and build community. Seek. Engage. Transform.” 

If you still think the library is just for checking out books, reading magazines or finding a story time for your kids, “come in and see what we’re all about,” he invites. “We can’t be everything to everyone, but I think we do have something for everyone.” 

For more information on all the many library offerings, visit www.ppld.org.