While some libraries are located in such a way to serve multiple neighborhoods, the Forest Home branch of the Milwaukee Public Library system is uniquely situated to serve the students of Milwaukee, being within walking distance of a few grade schools. The library also has a very sizable children’s section, with a good portion of those books devoted to Spanish-language ones.
Reflecting the diversity of the neighborhood, much of the staff at Forest Home are bilingual, including the Teacher In The Library who is present a few afternoons a week. That is an important point, since many of the students who visit Forest Home are bilingual from the time they started reading/talking, but some of their parents may still be learning to speak English. So, being able to easily talk with someone about their children’s homework in their most fluent language is pretty valuable.
While much of their non-English materials have commonly been Spanish, Forest Home has seen a larger need recently for books and media in Burmese, and they are working to support those patrons. Too, Forest Home recently hosted a free citizenship class for interested patrons.
In spending time in MKE’s libraries, I’ve come to see how much the libraries and their staff serve Milwaukee beyond just checking out books and media. There are job specialists to help people seeking employment. There are the teachers helping kids with their homework. There are the reference librarians helping people navigate the many research options available at the library. Librarians help people >fulfill their potential<.
And then, there is the library structure itself. Forest Home, with its plentitude of windows, has won awards for that design. And more importantly, as the librarian I spoke with said, the library is the “Third Place” for many people. She elaborated, “You know, adults have their home, their workplace, and the Library is the Third Place that is ‘theirs.’ Just like for the students who regularly come and hang out at the library – they have home, school – and the Library.” In looking around Forest Home, from the adults and kids working on computers, to the little kids browsing through Spanish-language children’s books, to the many adults lounging around the library looking at books, it’s apparent that this neighborhood makes good use of its “Third Place”.