For the last six months, books sat unread on the library shelves at the East St. Louis Higher Education Campus.
The library was forced to close due to the state’s budget impasse. However, now thanks to money from the Illinois Community College Board, the library has reopened as a Learning Resource Center.
“We thought it was a tremendous loss for the community when the library closed because of the budget cuts,” said Johanna Wharton, who is director of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville East St. Louis Center Workforce Development and Strategic Partnerships, which oversees the resource center. “We were excited to have new funds available to open the library.”
It will be available to students who attend classes at the center, but also open to the public.
SIUE East St. Louis Center Director Jesse Dixon said the public library in East St. Louis is located on the other side of town, and school officials hope the Learning Resource Center will be used by the community.
Wharton envisions the center being a “hub” for education and career exploration.
“It’s our vision for this to be a hub for youth and adults to get training; explore careers; apply for apprenticeships, internships, jobs; network with employers but also other educational institutions,” she said.
We thought it was a tremendous loss for the community when the library closed because of the budget cuts. We were excited to have new funds available to open the library.
Johanna Wharton, who helps oversee the Learning Resource Center
Learning Resource Center Director Lara Jennings said they plan to enhance the offerings to appeal to young children as well as senior citizens and everyone in between.
Jennings said the center will not only offer educational programs but other programs as well to improve not only the mind, but the body and spirit as well. They are considering other activities such as yoga and zumba, she said.
The Learning Resource Center is currently collecting original writings from East St. Louis high school students related to black history month as part of a “Display Our Voices” writing exhibit.
Jennings said one of the center’s goals is “being a champion of youth. We want to offer lots of programming to give area students a platform to shine.”
For senior citizens, Jennings said they are considering offering computer literacy programs to teach cookbook or scrapbook digitization.
“We want to make it a fun way to learn skills,” she said.
Wharton said the center also hopes to work with entrepreneurs who are interested in opening small businesses.
The center will also offer computer training in its computer lab, she said, including how to use social media, the basics of computer coding, building web sites and completing an online job application. The center has 20 computers in its lab and 10 additional computers throughout the library area of the center.
There’s also a conference room and small meeting rooms where area groups can meet at the center.
The Learning Resource Center will hold a weeklong open house, Monday-Friday, Feb. 6-10, at the center, which is in Building B on the higher education campus, located at 601 James R. Thompson Blvd. It is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We hope to be a place to highlight the best of the community,” Wharton said.
During the open house week, Jennings said they hope to hear from area residents about what their needs are. “We are going to try to cater our services to that,” she said.
The center currently employs three staff members but plans to add two more, according to Wharton.
Who can use the center?
The center will be available for anyone in the community to use, according to Jennings. However, only students who attend classes on the higher education campus or families who have children attend head start preschool program on campus will be able to obtain a library card and check out materials to bring home.
“Currently, right now, we are not going to be able to offer library cards to the public,” Jennings said. “The public is still open to use the space and have access to all the programming that we offer. They are just not able to take material home at this time, unfortunately.”
The center is connected through the Illinois Heartland Library System, so patrons are able to obtain materials they may need through the interlibrary loan program.
“We might have a smaller selection here, but we have access to get any material that we need within days for people,” Jennings said.
The center also has educational tools available to check out for library card holders like flash drives and graphing calculators.
“I’ve gotten a lot of calls about graphing calculators, so that was a big resource people were using this library for,” Jennings said.
Currently, right now, we are not going to be able to offer library cards to the public. The public is still open to use the space and have access to all the programming that we offer. They are just not able to take material home at this time, unfortunately.
Learning Resource Center Director Lara Jennings
Why did it close?
Southern Illinois Collegiate Common Market, also known as SICCM, operated the library on campus, which had to close June 30 because of the state budget crisis. Funding through the Illinois Community College Board was no longer available for the library.
Dixon said the board funded “community college offerings and supplemental operations” on the East St. Louis Higher Education Campus for the last 16 years, which included the library.
“Because of the state budget situation, SICCM made the decision to no longer provide those services on this campus,” he said. “SICCM had been responsible for the library, cafeteria and management of all the community-college related space.”
There was still interest from the Illinois Community College Board to offer those services, according to Dixon, but at a reduced cost.
“SIUE was in a unique position to take on some of those functions because we have such a large presence through our programs in St. Clair County and East St. Louis,” he said.
SIUE took on the operational function of the higher education campus, which was previously done by SICCM, according to Dixon.
The Illinois Community College Board received money for the East St. Louis campus through the stopgap funding measure approved by the state legislature last year.
“It was far less than it had been in the past,” Dixon said.
However, $90,000 was enough to reopen the library as a learning resource center, he said.
We are all going to have to wait and see what is going to happen after that. Our desire is to keep doing this in order to serve the community.
SIUE East St. Louis Center Director Jesse Dixon
SIUE officials hope to keep the Learning Resource Center open for the indefinite future. However, Dixon said they only have funding to operate it through the end of July.
“We are all going to have to wait and see what is going to happen after that,” Dixon said. “Our desire is to keep doing this in order to serve the community. ... Our hope is to continue.”
Hours for the Learning Resource Center may expand in the future based on the needs of the community.
“It’s a great space. I think it’s an inspiring space for young people,” Dixon said. “We are really excited about not just having it reopened, but the enhanced offerings we are trying to do with it. ... We are looking forward to seeing all these new audiences take advantage of this great space.”
East St. Louis Learning Resource Center
- Address: Building B on the higher education campus, located at 601 James R. Thompson Blvd.
- Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays
- Phone number: 618-874-8719
- Website: www.siue.edu/eslc/learning-resource-center.shtml
Grand opening week activities at Learning Resource Center
- Monday, Feb. 6: “Display of Voices” poster on display; and noon-1:15 p.m. – Viewing of Project 231 documentary
- Tuesday, Feb. 7: 10-10:30 a.m. – Story time with Septembre Lewis, Upward Bound Math and Science counselor; and noon-1 p.m. – Tiffany Lee, author of Legendary East St. Louisans: An African American Series
- Wednesday, Feb. 8: 1:30-2:30 p.m. – Dr. Eugene B. Redmond, East St. Louis poet laureate and SIUE English professor emeritus
- Thursday, Feb. 9: 2:30-3 p.m. – West African Dance Workshop demonstration
- Friday, Feb. 10: 10:30-11 a.m. – remarks by Philip Alabi, teaching assistant in SIUE’s Department of Chemistry