by James Hill
Originally published in the Chillicothe Gazette, April 24, 2022
Meetings. I know I’m not the only one who attends lots of meetings. I’m not complaining—it’s how I stay informed and how the library stays connected to the community. After all, if you want a seat at the table, you have to pull up a chair.
Chillicothe and Ross County Library partners with several local organizations and institutions. Staff serve on several local boards, like the United Way, Easterseals, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the American Red Cross, and the Mighty Kids Museum. Library staff also volunteer at places like the Good Samaritan Food Pantry, at our local schools’ book fairs, and at the homeless shelter; we sometimes even pick up litter downtown or direct traffic at football games.
The benefit of building community through meetings was never more evident than during the height of the pandemic. Ross County was a national example of how agencies pooled resources to benefit everyone. You may recall that all the way back in December of 2020, Chillicothe was recognized for the work of the Community Response Team (CRT). CRT was a group comprised of local government officials, nonprofit directors, school administrators, mental health providers, the housing authority, the Chamber of Commerce, the hospital, the health department, Community Action, churches, Ross County NAACP, Ohio University, the Y, the library, and more.
It was a collaborative effort focused on addressing emerging crises during the pandemic like immediate access to food and shelter, transportation, internet access, medical care, social support, and testing and vaccine access. Through the Community Response Team, we supported each other and held each other up. The library offered the help of our graphic designer to work on posters for other nonprofits. We distributed masks and rapid COVID tests by partnering with the local health department and the Ohio Department of Health. We received grants made possible by the County Commissioners and PACCAR Foundation to buy Chromebooks to lend. (They’re still available to borrow, by the way!). We helped build a stronger community response. It reminds me of the story about a parent talking to the kids about the strength of family. To illustrate, she picks up a single straw and easily bends it. Then, she picks up a handful of straw and tries to bend all the pieces together. She can’t. “See,” she says, “We’re stronger together.”
While I would never romanticize the hardships and isolation of COVID19, CRT was, for me, the silver lining. I now have connections to other area directors, leaders and elected officials that I never would have met if not for two years of Zoom meetings. And, those agency relationships continue to grow. As we transition back to in-person meetings, many of those groups are using the free library meeting rooms. After months of heads-and-shoulder camera views only, it’s great to place a body to a familiar face!
As the library director, I’ve always been adamant that the library and its activities should reflect the community it serves. That’s why I attend a lot of meetings and I hope you do, too.
James Hill is the Executive Director of Chillicothe and Ross County Public Library and has worked in libraries for more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.