Q&A: Cynthia Smith touts increased programming capability at Peoria Public Library’s Lincoln Branch
Cynthia Smith has been working at the Peoria Public Library's Lincoln Branch for more than 20 years.
As the branch manager, Smith has seen the library's service to the South Side neighborhood grow tremendously over the past decade. That's largely due to a renovation and expansion project 10 years ago that tripled the size of the existing original, historic Carnegie library built in 1910.
Part of the Peoria Public Library's $28 million system-wide modernization effort in 2010, the contemporary addition to the Lincoln Branch featured a dedicated computer lab with 16 public computers, and a large sunny room for children's programs.
The additional computer space has allowed the Lincoln Branch to participate in the state’s Project Next Generation initiative and offer more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programming.
In a discussion with WCBU reporter Joe Deacon, Smith explains what the extra space has allowed the Lincoln Branch to offer. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Joe Deacon: What has the additional space at the Lincoln branch allowed you to do that you couldn't do before?
Cynthia Smith: More programming. More of the community able to come in, hold meetings here. We have a new computer lab, which we didn't have before. We went from a program of technology of having only up to 12 kids to having up to 30. So the extension is very important in this community. It's helped us to actually be more creative, and in that creativity, more students are coming in, and with that, we're hoping that they become lifelong learners.
When you say more programming, I know that you have more STEM capability here. Can you tell us more about that and elaborate on what you're now able to provide?
Smith: Well, we have 3D pens, we have 3D computers. We have kits where we're building Bluetooth speakers, and where kids can actually take those kits with them. So it's on a different level: whereas before, it was just basic skills, learning how to maneuver the computer, whereas now, we've conquered that but so we have to keep it going. So with this extension and our new computer lab, we're able to do that with the technology.
What does it mean to be able to provide the services and programming options to this South Side neighborhood specifically?
Smith: It's very important. I do know that some of the STEM activities are being done at our schools. So what we do is really enhance that by keeping it going, and for those students who aren't getting that STEM activities, this is the place to be. We do a lot of things with our students here, so it's very important. We want to keep them in the know, and hopefully they'll be able to take that and then spread what they've learned to others.
What do you see from the children who are able to take advantage of the Lincoln library and the opportunities presented?
Smith: Gosh, we've seen college bound (kids), and that is the ultimate goal. So when we have a student that is not sure of who they are to actually coming out and actually doing poetry and being able to stand in front of a classroom and speak on their projects that they're doing, which before they wouldn't do, because of some of the programs we've done here – it's just been awesome to see that. So it's very exciting. It's very important.
Could you reflect for us on how things were before the expansion and how much the extra space has improved the library?
Smith: Well, yeah, actually, in the Carnegie – because it's the Carnegie, which now is a historical site – it was just limited. So we couldn't do the programs that we had; we didn't have actually the capability of having more computers, because we didn't have the space (and) the programs had to be limited. Of course, we had smaller groups, and now we can have multiple groups in this building at the same time. So it's made a huge impact on the community.
What does it mean to you to be celebrating 10 years of having the expansion added to the facility?
Smith: It's awesome. It went by so fast. It's like, has it been 10 years? So it has been 10 years, it's been a wonderful experience. It's been a pleasure to work here at Lincoln Branch, and it's really awesome. So yeah, the 10 years have increased programs, like I said earlier. Patrons are coming in as well, so organizations have partnered with us as well as teachers from District 150. So we're just excited about it all.
What do you hope to do moving forward with the Lincoln branch perhaps over the next 10 years?
Smith: I think more of the same. The creativity still has to be there, but I think we're on the right track as far as what STEM projects go. Even during the pandemic, it didn't stop us. We still did STEM kits, so we were able to give out over 2,000 kits in one month to students and organizations that were in need of that. So I just think we just have to keep doing what we're doing.
What else would you like our listeners to know about the Lincoln branch and what it has to offer?
Smith: Well, you know, it's not all about the kids, but it is about the kids. But we do have book clubs that we're doing; we have an adult book club. We're able to let our patrons know about best-selling authors. We've had authors events here, so we've done a lot. Keep looking out for us; we'll continue to do that same.