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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Volunteers playing a big role in the evolution of Rochester Public Library

Volunteers playing a big role in the evolution of Rochester Public Library

When Pat Stephenson first began volunteering at the Rochester Public Library, things were … well, a bit different.

“I worked — and are you ready for this — an actual switchboard in the basement of the library,” she recalls.

Fast forward four decades, those switchboards may be gone — but volunteers like Pat still remain a vital part of the library. Only now the technology is different. Today, the library offers 3-D printing, WiFi hotspot checkouts, and a diverse collection of multimedia. It also uses its digital networks to get the word out about hundreds of free classes and events each year.

“It’s more of a community center now than just a library,” says Pat, who manages a staff of volunteers at the Friends' Book Store inside the library.

 Pat Stephenson

Pat Stephenson

Pat is one of more than 100 individuals who regularly give back their time to support the library, which now welcomes 520,000 visitors each year. Together, working alongside staff, their contributions add up to the equivalent of more than a half million dollars annually.

“The staff are wonderful to us,” says volunteer Phyllis Hambright. “They appreciate us for all we do. And that makes you want to come in and volunteer more.”

More programming

Phyllis says the biggest change she’s noticed in her time at the library is the increased emphasis on programming. Initiatives like the Homebound Service Program, she says, demonstrate how volunteers can give back to the community in a meaningful way.

“This is where people who can’t get out of their homes and come and pick up a book,” explains Phyllis, “and we have volunteers who will pack their car and drop off a bag of books for them.”

 Phyllis Hambright

Phyllis Hambright

Among other outreach efforts volunteers take on is putting together Read with Me packets for newborns. Last year, they made an impressive 3,600 deliveries to local hospitals.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have the support of community members who volunteer their time and talents to help us achieve our mission,” says Library Director Audrey Betcher. “Volunteer opportunities vary from one time tasks to family opportunities, to long-term, specialized positions. The dedication and passion in their work is always impressive.”

A welcoming place

Adam Dickinson, a member of the Rochester Public Library Foundation Board, can remember as a child coming to the library with his family. It was here, Adams says, where he began discovering books and eventually discovering his love of music and the arts.  

Now an engineering manager at IBM in Rochester, he recognizes the important role the library can play in the lives of children and adults alike. 

“The library makes inclusion part of their core mission and actively finds programs and opportunities to reach out to those in our community that may not have the resources or support structure to get ahead,” says Adam.

 Adam Dickinson

Adam Dickinson

Earlier this year, the library’s commitment to inclusion helped earn the organization the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, putting in the same tier as just nine other institutions across the country.

“The library is already giving people a community and welcoming place to come and be themselves," says Adam.

“No judgement, no fear of not fitting in.”

Photography by Meredith Kestel

Published in partnership with Rochester Public Library

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