Guest Column

GRPL: Growing with our community

June 21, 2019
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For children and adults alike, America’s local libraries are a second home — a comforting place to relax with a book, study with friends or pick up a new hobby, whether it’s learning how to build an app or eat like an astronaut in space.

But they’re also a place to learn and to keep up with the times, sometimes even partnering with some of the biggest companies in the world.

Here at the Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL), we recognize that we’re no exception, and it’s why we’re honored to have served this community for nearly 150 years. From hosting preschool story times to offering classes for adults who want to start a business, each day we are working to empower our visitors and help connect them to the resources they need.

Since our establishment in 1871, we’ve grown in size and scope to better promote our core values of lifelong learning and literacy. Once located in a room above a downtown dry goods store, today the GRPL has eight locations across the city, making us well-positioned to meet the demands of an increasing population.

In addition to transforming our physical footprint, the GRPL also has made significant inroads when it comes to encouraging computer literacy and digital skills. For the last 15 years, we’ve offered free computer training classes for all levels of proficiency and also provide Speak to the Geek sessions, an opportunity for visitors to learn one on one with instructors.

These programs are critical as technology continues to touch nearly every industry, and thus, its workforce, especially here in Michigan. According to the National Skills Coalition, middle-skill jobs — jobs that call for a high school diploma — account for 54% of Michigan’s labor market but only 48% of the state’s workers are trained to the middle-skill level.

As our city continues to evolve, Grand Rapids Public Library stands ready to assist more workers who are hoping to improve their digital skills. That’s why we recently hosted Google for a day of workshops at our Main Library. The Grow with Google nationwide tour is the tech company’s initiative to help create economic opportunities for Americans through digital skills training.

The day consisted of a series of workshops and one-on-one trainings for small businesses, job seekers and anyone else who wanted to enhance their computer capabilities. Google trainers provided our librarians, as well as librarians from nearby areas and trainers from other organizations, with the tools and resources to provide these trainings on an ongoing basis.

The Grand Rapids Public Library has come a long way from where we started, and our progress is in large part due to you, the people of this community. As Grand Rapids makes gains in diversifying its economy and employers become increasingly tech savvy, the Grand Rapids Public Library will continue to take concrete action to ensure our visitors have the necessary skills for the current — and future — workforce. We hope you will join us.

John McNaughton is library director of Grand Rapids Public Library.

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