Outreach boosts patrons at Kendall Branch Library

By Richard Yager….

Librarian Nadja Howerton and Javier Corredor, manager, check newest books at Kendall Branch Library.

With Kendall lacking a government center, its oldest branch library gradually is taking on part of that role with dramatic increases in use this year. Based on patron count alone, it amounts to a 25 percent gain during this year compared to 2009.

Javier Corredor, Kendall Branch Library manager, and his assistant, Nadja Howerton, say they spend almost equal time administering outreach services as they do readership operations at the neighborhood facility, now beginning its fourth decade since opening in July 1980.

“Many local residents just needing some kind of help are coming here, many searching for new jobs and placement information,” said Corredor, now in his sixth year as Kendall Branch manager.

For Howerton, it meant organizing and staffing 11 different programs during August while continuing to plan for growing numbers in storytelling, early literacy and similar community programs expected to further expand when the countywide system celebrates “40 years of library service in Miami-Dade County” during 2011.

The Miami-Dade Public Library System now serves more than two million residents and visitors in 48 branches throughout Miami-Dade County, many using recently added computers for submitting job placement applications and resume writing as well as studying and research.

“You can see it in the increasing numbers of people who have come here just in the past four months,” Corredor said, displaying daily people counts, even as a steady flow of voters were using the Kendall Branch Library meeting room for early voting prior to the Aug. 24 primary.

The raw figures count who enters the library during its day-to-day schedule, recorded by an electric beam device mounted at the main entrance, Corredor explained, adding that it “doesn’t include a lot of little ones, since the beam recording entries is set three feet above the floor! A good number of tiny tots enter below that level!”

Both Corredor and Howerton say heavier traffic is due primarily to increased outreach activities from cultural events to literacy and language classes that all public libraries now furnish.

“In addition to expanded programming, our August schedule included nine youth programs and two for adults,” Howerton said. “That’s apart from activities held for different purposes in the main meeting room.”

“Today, many others work on job placement,” Corredor said. “In addition to helping in programs, we’ve become a kind of question-and-answer service, helping direct people how to fill out forms or visit the right place to inquire about county job opportunities.”

The closing of many Miami-Dade County Team Metro offices has left residents without a place to go to detailed questions answered and other services performed — so many make inquiries at their nearest neighborhood library.

Growing community partnerships with the library system was evidenced in 2009 when ground was broken for a future Arcola Lakes Branch Library on two of more than nine acres that will also house a Miami-Dade Police Station and a Community Action Agency Headstart facility. Construction of the 9,670-squarefoot branch is budgeted at $2.3 million for completion by summer of 2011.

Similar partnerships exist within other municipalities throughout the county, said Vinora Hamilton, public information officer for the library system.

Kendall’s only hope for some kind of government office currently lies in the Building Better Communities bond program, passed in 2004 with an allocation of $6 million for the Park and Recreation Department to construct a recreation center, athletic fields and a dog park at Indian Hammocks Park.

During recent public meetings conducted by Parks Department staff members, residents have requested the scope of work be expanded to include construction of a county government office with a community meeting room.

Up until last year, the Kendall Library meeting room had served East Kendall Community Council 12 for non-zoning sessions that began at 6:30 p.m. with public hearings on zoning applications scheduled in school auditoriums because of the limited size to accommodate large crowds, as well as the library’s closing hour at 9 p.m.

Zoning meetings now are conducted at Kendall Village Center’s civic pavilion due to conflicts that occasionally occurred with school programs.

Today, the Kendall Branch continues to serve a reading public in its 14,000- square-foot building, termed “one of the busiest branches in the library system,” according to Hamilton.

Previously directing a mobile library, Zoila Mae Blakeslee became its first manager for nine fulltime employees when the branch opened on July 10, 1980. Even with proposed county budget cutting, the Kendall Library today needs 14 fulltime staffers and nine part-time assistants.

Housing 110,000 items with a sizeable Spanish collection, the library offers hundreds of audiobooks, videos and music CDs, to keep pace with modern technology, Hamilton noted, adding that with free connection to the Internet and a range of software, computers are in heavy demand.

To reach the Kendall Branch Library, call 305-279-0520.

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