Community support and engagement recognized through prestigious five-star designation

The Kent District Library (KDL) is a five-star library. The Library Journal Index of Public Library Service honored KDL with its highest score recognition, a reflection of KDL’s commitment to better all people in its community. 

Star Libraries are recognized based on circulation of physical and electronic materials, library visits, program attendance, Internet usage, Wi-Fi sessions, website traffic and online content usage. KDL had the highest program attendance per capita for any library in the index with a budget of $10 million or more. Out of thousands of libraries 258 received stars. In Michigan, the Ann Arbor District Library has been a five-star library for the past 15 years. West Bloomfield Township Library is also a five-star library. 

Lulu Brown, a regional manager at the Cascade and Caledonia branches, has been with KDL since May 2021. She oversees programming and community partnerships. Brown explains what it means to receive the top honor.

“With KDL being rated a five-star library, it really just speaks to the quality of the services that we’re able to provide to the communities that we serve,” she says. “It’s one thing that our Executive Director Lance (Werner) really breaks it down and talks about how important it is that we offer ‘a third place’ for all of our patrons, and that we’re able to meet [their] needs. Our vision of the overall KDL system is that we exist to further all people. We’re always looking for ways to fill gaps, whether that’s the materials we have in our building, the programs that we offer or the services we offer outside of our building through outreach.”

Brown is proud to work for an organization that is being recognized for the positive impact it has on the surrounding community. 

“That’s what it means to be a five-star library — you’re the best of the best and really able to drive really great numbers in terms of how many people you’re able to impact and serve,” she says. 

The rating is based on the 2020 fiscal year.

While working at the Cascade and Caledonia branches, Brown sees the direct impact the library is able to provide in creating that ‘third place’ for residents.

“We try to focus on creating really great programs. Relating back to that third place idea, you typically have home and you have work. We ideally want to fill that gap. The library is one of the last places that you can go into, you don’t have to pay a fee, everyone is welcome, and we have so many different ways to help people.”

Brown says the number of people attending their programs is starting to really take off. “We really invest in high-quality programs. We want to generate a lot of excitement around reading,” she says. “You’ll witness trends in certain areas of the collections, so at certain times, you’ll see dinosaur books are popular. Our animal books are always popular, so when you go into things like our Summer Wonder reading challenge, we try to find things that will generate excitement around reading. We’ll do things like exotic zoos or bring in different performers who speak multiple languages to make sure we’re serving diverse populations. We bring in people who do magic, Native American dancers, and we’re able to show all the different resources we have available to not only provide books, but to provide real life experiences besides the books that people can really engage with, and get a better understanding of the world.”

Although the Library offers a plethora of programming for all ages, Brown enjoys seeing the smiling faces of patrons and visitors during the events for 0-5-year-olds.

“Things like our unicorn parties, the reindeer nights. Sometimes you don’t realize there are a lot of people who have various challenges. A lot of people deal with grief, a lot of the children who were born during the pandemic didn’t have access to getting to know their classmates. The library allowed us to facilitate some of those social interactions that people missed.”

Apart from programming, Brown says the Library also offers a space that provides comfort for many people.

“I can’t even count how many times we’ve had someone come into the library who has recently lost a family member, and not knowing where to start,” she says. “You get people from every single walk of life, struggling with things or just wanting a friend, and it’s nice that we’re able to provide that space.”

To continually push the dial forward and respond to the community's needs and requests, Brown is looking forward to upcoming programming at the Cascade branch. Part of the planning for future events requires a look-back at how successful previous events were. 

“We do large programs here, and one of the most recent ones was our reindeer night where we were able to serve about 1,100 people in an hour. It was at that time that we realized our community was really craving some of these larger events to come to,” Brown says. “In the fall, we’ll actually do a music festival that highlights local artists. We’re going to call it the VIBES Festival, and it will be a two-day music festival that’s completely free for families to come and attend. You can hear all types of music, everything from folk music to alternative music [to] rock,” she says. In addition to providing a family-friendly outing, “it’s also a way for us to support the local artists in Grand Rapids,” Brown says.

VIBES Festival was inspired by the in-branch VIBES reference desk concerts. Brown says the concerts were highly attended on quieter nights at the Library.

“This program will be a little different, not acoustic like the VIBES concerts were. It’s going to be a bit more of a true concert,” she says.

Some people still have the misconception that libraries are quiet places filled with dusty shelves of books. Brown says that’s not the case. Oftentimes learning can be loud and full of interactive play. 

“We encourage play. We know that for children, play helps them develop literacy skills,” Brown says. “There are times when the library is not quiet. After storytimes, we’ll do a fish feeding at the Cascade branch. You’ll see about 70 people leave from our storytime on Thursday, and everyone slowly marches over to the fish tank at the main area. We talk about the fish, and they see them being fed, and then they get to go play in our WonderKnook space, which has all of these interactive, fun things they can play with.”

This isn’t the first time KDL has received the five-star rating, but Brown says it’s always a rewarding feeling.

“It’s something we pride ourselves on. We push ourselves every year to continue to innovate to make sure that we’re not only circulating physical and electronic materials, but that we’re driving traffic into our branches, offering great programs, great tech services and always improving.”

KDL Marketing Communications Specialist Katie Zuidema says the recognition reflects KDL’s role in the community. 

“Receiving this recognition from Library Journal solidifies that KDL plays a vital role in inspiring and educating our patrons with innovative programming, materials and services," she says. 

Executive Director at KDL, Lance Werner, echoes the sentiment.

“This award is a reflection that people use and place a high value on the services we provide. The Star Library designation is welcome confirmation that KDL provides the library offerings that our residents want and need in their lives.”  

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library. 

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago, before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone — just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected].
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