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Washtenaw United: Ypsilanti District Library Helps Provide Historical Context On Race

Sam Killian
Ypsilanti District Library

The local and national dialogue on racism continues.  To understand where we are and where we are going, it is important to understand how we got here.  In this week's "Washtenaw United," WEMU's David Fair checks in with Sam Killian from the Ypsilanti District Library.  They'll discuss the resources available while the library branches remain closed and look forward at what may come as they reopen. 

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area.  And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services.  It is a community voice.  It is 'Washtenaw United.'


Sam has been the Community Relations Coordinator for YDL since November, 2019.


Ypsilanti District Library


In FY18, UWWC, awarded YDL a grant to pilot a new program to support YCS students and in FY19, we provided another round of grant funding to ensure the continued expansion of this promising progam.  The grants underwrote the cost of providing bus transportation for Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) students to visit the library.  Library field trips helped students build information literacy skills concurrent with grade-level benchmarks, and gain increased access to the library’s resources. 

Visiting the school library is a fond memory for many of us, but for most students in Ypsilanti, it’s not part of their school experience.  Funding cuts forced YCS to lay off librarians and reduce most of their school library services in the last decade as they relied on untrained volunteers.  Libraries are frequently closed for use as standardized testing sites.  Programs are only starting to rebuild and the district does not have a standardized curriculum for information literacy or library use.  The dearth of library services in schools has led to a missing piece of YCS education. 

The need for comprehensive library instruction was one of the top priorities identified by a joint task force between YDL and YCS.  Teachers and librarians worked together to develop a series of field trips that leverage YDL’s robust resources and staff to ensure that students develop research skills by the time they graduate.  With planned field trips in 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 10th grade, students will progressively build their knowledge of library services and research skills over their student career.  Field trip learning objectives will be aligned with classroom project needs and students’ ability levels, making it easy for teachers to incorporate what is learned at the library back in their classrooms. 

Most significant change: Getting a library card was the most significant change for many of our students.  The library typically requires a parent to be present for anyone under the age of 18 to receive a library card.  Working through the schools, we were able to waive this policy so that more students could get cards.  For many families, it is difficult for a parent to get to the library to sign their child up.  Those children often miss out on the resources available to them at the library.  Through this program, we were able to get library cards in the hands of children who normally wouldn’t receive them. 

A story worth sharing: A student that had just been on the 5th grade tour was so excited that he came back another night with his whole family and he walked them through all the steps to find and check out books.  The library was not previously seen as a “place to be” by this family and this 5th grader got to be an expert. 

For the past two years, UWWC and YDL have partnered to provide access to free tax preparation services to residents of the Sycamore Meadows community, with YDL’s Superior library branch serving as a “scan and go” site for UWWC’s VITA (free tax preparation) program.  Residents can submit their tax documents virtually, a volunteer prepares them at United Way, and then YDL staff review the outcome with them. 

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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