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The Scarlet & Black

Drake Library holds OpenBook event, helps unite community and share diverse stories and experiences

Photo contributed by Drake Public Library.

Located at 930 Park Street, Drake Community Library is a staple in the Grinnell Community. Originally, the building was known as the Stewart Library after farmer, backer and legislator Joel Stewart. Now, it is the Drake community library named after George Drake, the president of Grinnell College from 1979 to 1991. The library provides the greater Grinnell community with opportunities for lifelong learning and cultural enrichment through a variety of responsive services and programs. Marilyn Kennett, director of Drake Community Library, has worked in the library for over 27 years, and can certainly attest to its impact.

“Drake community library is what I would call the information center for Grinnell. We are a hub many people gravitate to for many reasons … Books [are] our livelihood here, and they are still a very important medium for learning and recreation,” said Kennett.

Drake community library has a strong connection to the community. The library itself serves as a historical archive for Grinnell as well as a space for interaction. “We do have a strong emphasis on preserving our Grinnell history here as well as connecting people through our obituary database. We provide access to historical issues of the Grinnell papers, newspapers and we have Poweshiek history preservation project that allows people to share their personal stories, personal artifacts and photographs of how they work and what they do in Poweshiek county,” said Kennett.

Drake Community Library promotes learning in Grinnell and brings community members together. The library provides programs for all ages, such as story times for children hosted by local storytellers. Drake Community Library also responds to community needs by working as a neutral place to facilitate the events and other forums for the community. “We really just respond to community needs and desires. We will [often] be asked to facilitate a certain author visit,” said Kennett.

This year, the Drake Community Library is hosting a new event. The library teamed up with CultureAll, a non-profit organization in Des Moines, to host Open Book, an event hoping to raise awareness of the concept of a human library. “This is something we have wanted to do for quite some time. It’s been our strategic plan to have this human library [in order to] celebrate diversity and cultural awareness,” said Kennett.

This coming Saturday, Nov. 2, community members can expect a celebration of diversity along with meaningful interactions during the event. At OpenBook, attendees will listen to a person’s verbal story instead of the more traditional written word. After signing a library card-esque contract, visitors can choose which “book,” or person telling a story, they would like to visit.

Five individuals will be sharing their story and being “books” at the event. These volunteers, who had to complete extensive training, include teenagers as well as adults. The library hopes to provide a respectful and open environment for people of different backgrounds to learn about one another.

“The human books we have chosen for the events have multicultural aspects [to] their stories, and it’s a way for people to have a deeper understanding of one another. Often times, even though we are in a small town … and we say hello to the person pass across the street, we don’t know that person, and even when you have business relationship or community relationships, there is not always time to actually understand another person or understand their viewpoints,” said Kennett.

Through this event, Kennett hopes to improve not only the connection between people and information, but also interpersonal relationships within the community.

“It’s pretty incredible, it’s an incredible experience not only for the books who are learning even more about themselves, and how they want to share their stories, and our readers people coming to the event to are there to listen and they can ask a few questions and such as a conversation evolves, but have about ten minutes of time with each of these books and gain some insight into another person that you might not have an opportunity to get to know otherwise,” said Kennett.

The OpenBook event will be held in the Drake Community Library on Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. until noon. At OpenBook, Grinnell college graduate Farah Omer ’19 will present as one of the human books and will talk about “Paws: An American Love Story.” The lunch will be provided for all human books, readers and librarians. Drake Library asks that all participants approach the event with respect and leave the “books” as they found them.

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