21st Century Skills:
Skokie, a northern suburb of Chicago, has a current population of 68,000 that has become increasingly diverse over the past 25 years. Forty-two percent of its population is now foreign born and 90 different languages are spoken throughout the community. In response, Skokie Public Library has formed a broad array of partnerships and focused its operations and programs to serve the entire community. This leadership vision and community-centric approach helped the Skokie Public Library earn the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2008.
At the White House ceremony celebrating this achievement, Carolyn Anthony, Director of the Skokie Public Library said, "The library is integrated into the fabric of the community, constantly working in collaboration with other organizations to address the ever-changing needs of and challenges facing Skokie. Because we serve such a diverse population, we focus on building community and supporting lifelong learning and the exchange of ideas among groups and individuals" ("Skokie Public Library" 2008).
Being embedded in the community is intentional and strategic. Every three years as part of the strategic planning process, the library scans the community for emerging needs, and determines how and whether the library can help address them. This process revealed several years ago that the economic base had shifted—seemingly overnight—from large corporations as the major employers, to smaller, more nimble businesses. Local entrepreneurs were relying more heavily on the resources provided by the Skokie Public Library, where specialized business and workforce development information could be accessed along with guidance from expert library staff. Sensing the need to better understand this audience, Anthony became involved with the Chamber of Commerce. In that capacity she helped create a non-profit education organization, the North Suburban Business Development Foundation, to help provide continuing education to members of the business community and educate the broader community about the work local businesses are doing.
The new business initiative is a fitting example of the service culture embodied by the Skokie Public Library—the institution’s leaders know that all community needs cannot be met by a library alone. Library leadership in addressing these needs—to listen, to research, to connect the dots, and to bring partners to the table—is a fundamental value that infuses the entire Skokie library system.
Skokie Public Library initiatives enhance global awareness, communication, and life and career skills throughout the community. Its Festival of Cultures, a cooperative project started 19 years ago by the library, Village of Skokie and Skokie Park District that takes place in Skokie every May, originally started with just six cultures; in 2009, representatives of 42 cultures engaged the community around the central theme of sustainability, with interactive games and an obstacle course all crafted out of recycled materials. A range of activities also encouraged global awareness: participants "earned" colored beads by engaging in educational activities at each cultural booth and turned the beads into global necklaces representing the diversity of the community.