A Community Space for All

Peoria Public Library welcomes everyone in the community with open arms.

by Jennifer Davis, Peoria Public Library
Inside the children’s room at the downtown Peoria Public Library, 1960
Inside the children’s room at the downtown Peoria Public Library, 1960

Equity. Diversity. Inclusion. At Peoria Public Library, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, how much you earn, what language you speak or what religion you practice. We’ll never tell you what to read, what to think or who to be. Our doors are open to all, and everything we have is yours. No questions asked. We may traffic in information, but privacy is beyond sacred to us.

All this is why Kristen Haley, chair of the Peoria Transgender Society (PTGS), says they choose to meet at the library. “Our members and guests have always felt safe, secure and comfortable,” Haley says, noting that in addition to monthly meetings, PTGS also hosted the first Peoria Transgender Health Forum at the Main Library. “Our traveling Transgender History Project has been prominently displayed at both the Main and Lakeview branches, along with topically relevant books, periodicals and [other] material… The library has built a significant volume of material pertinent to all topics of interest—a resource commonly drawn on and referred to by PTGS.”

Empowering Everyone
From welcoming groups like PTGS with open arms, to celebrating our country’s newest citizens with U.S. naturalization ceremonies, to offering a resource-sharing space for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a key part of Peoria Public Library’s mission is to empower everyone. 

“I’m not the first to say this, but I believe it: Supporting diversity means doing our part so we all learn to walk through this world together,” says Randall Yelverton, executive director of Peoria Public Library (PPL). “Everyone who walks through our doors should feel equal. There should be no question, no fear, no hesitation that this isn’t their space.”

Embracing diversity can mean choosing to see life through someone else’s eyes. That’s why Peoria Reads—the annual “one city, one book” project—chose The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas as its book selection for 2020. 

The Hate U Give
Peoria Reads chose The Hate U Give as its book selection for 2020. 

“We purposefully chose this thought-provoking book for the conversations and introspections we hope it spurs in our community,” says Roberta Koscielski, PPL deputy director and chair of the Peoria Reads Committee, which includes community partners Methodist College, Bradley University and Neighborhood House. “We’re all going to read this differently because we have different perspectives, but that is the whole point. Learning from one another and listening to each other—that’s the real goal of Peoria Reads.”

The Hate U Give, one of the most challenged books in 2017 and 2018, deals with themes such as racism and police brutality, but also the healing and grace that can come as a result of violence. More than a dozen events—from book clubs and film screenings to poverty simulations and a communitywide panel discussion—are scheduled in March and April.

Embracing Partnerships
Peoria Public Library has a long history of partnerships: Peoria Public Schools and summer reading, Peoria Park District and our StoryWalk, Peoria Reads with a variety of community partners… just to name a few. But we’re always looking for additional alignments. 

We recently joined with the Peoria Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to start offering bilingual storytimes and with the Peoria Innovation Alliance to develop plans for a new digital media lab at the Main Library.

Peoria Public Library also focuses on reaching those who can’t come to us. In addition to delivering books to homebound patrons, the library offers a special program for those suffering from dementia. 

Reference librarian Cindy Wright visits eight memory care facilities every month (except December), serving about 100 total people. Each program has a theme—local history, science, nature, arts and entertainment, travel—with information and a related craft or game. “Nothing too complex, but nothing childish either. We want to respect their dignity,” Wright explains, recalling one instance where a woman sat unresponsive until she started to play music. 

“She suddenly got up and started to dance. I danced with her, and seeing the recognition and joy on her face was absolutely priceless. The part of her brain that processed music was still functioning. Many of these patrons are still able to read into the later stages of the disease. Working with them has been a blessing to me.”

Open doors and open hearts. Libraries are ever-evolving—it’s true. But one thing that will not change at Peoria Public Library is that we are here for our community, and they are here for us. PM

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