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How one county is reimagining libraries, from teaching kitchens to woodworking shops

How one county is reimagining libraries, from teaching kitchens to woodworking shops

The first public library in the US dates back to 1790 in Franklin, Massachusetts. Today, in the age of e-reading and other technological developments, the modern library faces a new set of challenges. Despite these obstacles, several libraries in the country are writing the book on innovation.

The Richland Public Library in Columbia, South Carolina is a national leader in reimagining the library’s place in the community.

The Richard Library has its own teaching kitchen where patrons can learn about culinary techniques. It also comes with a fully equipped woodworking workshop, a seed library and a ‘stuff library’, with shelves full of items such as tools, games and toys.

Melanie Huggins, the library’s executive director, pioneered the extraordinary development.

“We have always been in the business of improving people’s lives. I think this is the history of public libraries around the globe,” Huggins said.

This history dates back to 1895, when the first branch library of the city of Columbia was founded. But an economic ebb and flow, combined with technological advances, led Huggins and her team to write a new chapter for a community in need.

“We think of our spaces as places to learn, to share, to create, and we create quiet spaces and let the rest of the library be vibrant and active,” Huggins said.

At the library, job seekers can rely on career counselors, and social workers help the homeless and food insecure.

Education is also a priority.

“I didn’t know our libraries contributed to our education. I thought you come here and get a book,” said Letita Miller, a 40-year-old single mother of four.

Miller dropped out of high school after having her first child at 14. Thanks to the library, he was able to take free online classes to earn a high school diploma.

“It was very, very difficult because I had to grow up early. I had to learn more responsibility at that age,” Miller said of her teenage years.

After years of struggling and working multiple jobs, he returned to high school through the library program in 2022.

Developing innovative ways to stay relevant is now a national trend among American libraries. Main Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, has a sound booth where people can record their own albums. in chicago automated they are stocked with free supplies, from hygiene kits to Narcan, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.

“There’s no one else doing this work,” Huggins said.

This spring, Miller proudly accepted her high school diploma and credited the library for helping her get there.

“You can accomplish so many things here,” Miller said.