Patron Driven: Mission, Space, Community

Patron Driven: Season One Blog Series

Patron Driven is a new podcast series that tells crowd-sourced library stories where the personal and professional meet. Season one follows four library staffers whose library flooded due to Hurricane Harvey. Arriving June 22, 2020.

When I came onto Patron Driven as an editor and writer, Bill and Mark had already conducted several interviews. Asked to catch up on the story, I settled in for hours of listening with a very large cup of coffee. By the end, I was dangerously caffeinated but felt like I knew these four women—Anne, Allison, Jennifer, Mikha—and what they wanted their library to be.

When asked to describe the library before Hurricane Harvey hit, Mikha answered: “We had about 40,000 books in our collection. We were pretty much a traditional library. As an academic library, we provided a lot of instruction, so a lot of the English classes would come in and we provided research-based sessions for their assignments.”

It didn’t take long for her to get to the problems. The library was too small, it was outdated, and “hadn’t had a real remodel since its creation,” which was in 1984.

The Lone Star – Kingwood Library pre-Harvey.

But despite the lack of updates, they found ways to provide services that enhanced their community. They hosted events like a National Women’s History Month art contest, mental health awareness seminars, and “stressbuster” coloring stations during finals weeks, all of which epitomized their mission: they wanted to curate a space that students would actually use.

Because students, they had a lot of. Kingwood is one of seven branches of the Lone Star College system in Houston, Texas. It’s one of the largest community college systems in the United States, with over 81,000 students. In the fall 2019 semester, Kingwood served close to 12,000 of those students.

The Kingwood Library branch is part of a library consortium that covers two counties, Harris and Montgomery; two of the libraries in the system are public. The Lone Star College libraries’ mission statement is “to support a successful educational experience, nurture the intellectual and cultural life of the community … provide innovative and high-quality services and programs.” When Harvey hit, the Kingwood campus’s gym was designated as a shelter before flooding began. When Harvey hit, all libraries in their consortium reached out to provide laptops, resources, even jobs to those who couldn’t find available positions at their own branch. Being a community college means being part of a greater system. It means providing services to those in your neighborhood.

The library’s National Women’s History Month art contest.

The Kingwood neighborhood, northeast of downtown Houston, has a somewhat mysterious slogan: “the livable forest.” When asked to elaborate, Jennifer explained that many of the homes are set back behind the area’s thick vegetation. “All you see is the trees, but then when you drive through, the neighborhoods open up. That’s pretty much all of Kingwood. A lot of the homes are hidden; you can’t see them.”

That pretty well parallels the library pre-Harvey. Mikha had this to say: “We’ve always been well reputed as trying to push the boundaries as much as we could on our campus, but doing so in a very hidden, quiet manner.” Though the Kingwood Library contributed to its library consortium and community in earnest, its own mission was hidden behind an outdated space. It would take a drive through the trees, or a destructive, record-setting hurricane to bring it to the surface.

— Sabrina

To find out how they did it, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts on June 22.

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About the author:

Sabrina Cofer is the digital media assistant at Choice. She produces the Authority File and Patron Driven podcasts.