Community coalition honors library director

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 17, 2017

 Clinton-Macomb Public Library Director Larry Neal, center, is awarded by Charlene McGunn, director of the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families, and Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts.

Clinton-Macomb Public Library Director Larry Neal, center, is awarded by Charlene McGunn, director of the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families, and Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts.

Photo provided by Chippewa Valley Schools

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — If libraries open the door to knowledge, people like Clinton-Macomb Public Library Director Larry Neal keep those doors open.

On May 9 at the Chippewa Valley Schools Administration Building, Neal was honored with the Community Partner Award. The award is presented by the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families.

Each year, the coalition recognizes a community leader who has supported the coalition’s efforts. Past winners include U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Michigan; Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon; Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith; Clinton Township Police Chief Fred Posavetz; and Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham.

Charlene McGunn, director of the coalition, said the library and its staff has participated in local events, working with children and students to create a better environment.

“(Neal’s) been a friend of the school district, as well as the coalition. … The library, under Larry’s leadership, has been extremely helpful,” McGunn said.

Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts said the library has brought programs to the forefront, such as the ConnectEd Challenge, which encourages libraries to collaborate with elected officials, school leaders and school librarians to create or strengthen partnerships and encourage every child to own a library card.

Roberts said such programs are usually introduced in major cities, though the Clinton-Macomb Public Library was selected by the White House as one of 30 libraries from around the country to participate.

“Larry is a true community partner,” Roberts said. “I think of the atmosphere he’s created at the library — which is so important in any organization that you feel welcome and I think that opens doors — and Larry has really done that for the library. … What I’ve noticed with the library is that his attitude permeates throughout the place and throughout the employees because you’re treated the same by everyone.”

Neal said he couldn’t believe it has already been 25 years since the library opened its doors, starting at Erie Elementary in Clinton Township.

The local library model started with a few people adhering to visionary thoughts, he said, and what has been accomplished in more than two decades is “quite remarkable.”

“That’s the kind of communication, whether it’s by administrators or frontline staff members, teachers and parents and all that — that’s what truly makes this partnership meaningful and productive,” Neal said.

He said that of approximately 16,500 students in the community, about 6,800 already had library cards — prompting the challenge of getting 10,000 kids added to the system.

In the fall of 2015, the library started a campaign to get students and families involved in receiving full-access cards that could be used for reading, attaining scholarly resources, using group study rooms, and more.

More than 2,100 families signed on 1 1/2 years ago, and Neal said that the 20 percent statistic is just the first step in a difficult challenge to educate students on the importance of libraries. That experience includes recreation and meeting other young members of the community.

“Sure, technology is great but it isolates people. … I’m so happy when we have so many teens that come into the space, they think of it as their own and feel comfortable there,” he said. “Having our staff being able to go out into the schools begins that human connection — that face, that person that may have read a story in their class when they were young.”

Since a successful millage in 2014, the library — which has three locations in six school districts in Clinton and Macomb townships — continues to make a push to build stronger connections. That includes school outreach in the form of summer reading programs, as well as encouraging diversity.

Neal said Clinton-Macomb is one of 50 national libraries that will offer a full-paid internship to a local high school junior or senior who possesses a diverse background. Expenses will be paid for the student to visit Chicago and Washington, D.C., and immerse himself or herself in the real role of libraries.

“The demographics in the country are changing, and we need to be diverse in our profession as well,” Neal said.