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How one county is reimagining libraries, from teaching kitchens to woodworking shops

How libraries are innovating to stay relevant
How libraries are innovating to stay relevant 03:26

The first public library in the U.S. dates back to 1790 in Franklin, Massachusetts. Today, in the age of e-reading and other technological developments, the modern library faces a new set of challenges. Despite these hurdles, several libraries across the country are writing the book on innovation.

The Richland Public Library in Columbia, South Carolina, is a national leader in reimagining the library's place in the community.

The Richard library has its own teaching kitchen, where patrons can learn about culinary techniques. It also comes with a fully equipped woodworking shop, a seed library and a "library of things," with shelves filled with items like instruments, games and toys.

Melanie Huggins, the library's executive director, has pioneered the extraordinary evolution.

"We have always been in the business of making people's lives better. I think that is the history of public libraries across the globe," Huggins said.

That history dates back to 1895, when the city of Columbia's first library branch was founded. But an economic ebb and flow, combined with advancements in technology, led Huggins and her team to write a new chapter for a community in need.

"We think of our spaces as places to learn, to share, to create, and we create quiet spaces and let the rest of the library just be vibrant and active," Huggins said.

At the library, job seekers can lean on career counselors, and social workers help homeless people and people suffering from food insecurity. 

Education is also a top priority.

"I didn't know our libraries contribute to us getting our education. I just thought you come in here and get a book," said Letita Miller, a 40-year-old single mother of four.

Miller dropped out of high school after having her first baby at 14. Thanks to the library, she was able to take free online classes to earn a high school diploma.

"It was very, very difficult, 'cause I had to grow up early. I had to learn more responsibility at that age," Miller said of her teenage years.

After years of struggling and working multiple jobs, she went back to high school through the library's program in 2022.

Developing innovative ways to stay relevant is now a national trend among American libraries. The main library in Salt Lake City, Utah, has a sound booth where people can record their own albums. In Chicago, vending machines are stocked with free supplies, from hygiene kits to Narcan, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose.

"There's nobody else doing this work," Huggins said.

This spring, Miller proudly accepted her high school diploma, and she credited the library for helping her get there.

"You can accomplish so many things here," Miller said.

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