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Libraries as Life-Changers

Portrait

I’m so grateful I’m in a place now where I can say the Library helped me become the person I am today. I’m a perfect example of how the Library can make a difference in a person’s life.

– Juanita O. Brent State Representative, Ohio House District 12

As State Representative Juanita O. Brent tells it, Cleveland Public Library changed the trajectory of her career—and set her on the course to become a state representative.

Brent, who currently represents Ohio House District 12, turned to Cleveland Public Library when she was 23 years old and in need of professional guidance. At the time, she was working a low-paying job and faced uncertainty surrounding the next step in her career. Enter the Library’s Harvard-Lee Branch, which Brent began visiting on a regular basis as she contemplated her professional future.

“This was before I had a smartphone, and I couldn’t afford the internet,” she explains. “Small barriers like that can stop us from moving forward.”

The Library helped Brent overcome that barrier. For upwards of three months, she visited the Harvard-Lee Branch nearly every day to use the computers. In the process, library staff took notice.

“The librarians built a relationship with me. They finally said, ‘Well, what are you trying to do? We see you here every day, how can we help you?’” Brent recalls. “That makes a difference—that someone took an interest in me.”

The staff at Harvard-Lee guided Brent toward a career services program, which helped her learn how to improve her résumé by listing concrete goals she had achieved in a job during her college days.

The program was particularly useful for a young adult like Brent who had finished college but was “still in that gray area of trying to find out where you’re going in life and how you’re going to get there.” The services Brent obtained for free at the Library not only helped her secure a better job, but helped prepare her for where she is today—and it’s all because Cleveland Public Library staff took an interest in her needs.

Transparency and Equality

Today, Brent remains a steadfast supporter of libraries. She often holds her house district office hours in the meeting rooms at public libraries as a way to signal that all constituents are welcome to meet with her. Most of all, she’s drawn to the fact that libraries offer free assistance equally to everyone. She estimates, for example, that the career assistance she obtained years ago at Harvard-Lee would have cost hundreds of dollars had she paid for the services.

“Our libraries our touching everyone, no matter [a person’s] economic level or race or background or religious beliefs,” Brent says. “So we need to support our libraries.” In her work as a state representative, Brent is particularly passionate about equity in educational services for children.

Libraries, she says, help bridge the gap for children in low-income areas by providing free tutoring services and educational enrichment. She also appreciates libraries for providing access to the latest bestselling books; programs that help people live healthier, more fulfilled lives; and access to computers and digital literacy resources.

For these reasons and more, Brent believes libraries have become anchors within Cleveland communities. She encourages the public to make use of libraries and to support them in any way possible—because you never know whose life will be changed by a library.

“I’m so grateful I’m in a place now where I can say the Library helped me become the person I am today,” Brent says. “I’m a perfect example of how the Library can make a difference in a person’s life.”