The South Side Branch of the Bethlehem Public Library opened its doors at 400 Webster St. in 1929.
The golden lettering facing the street has ushered residents through its bright red doors for decades, offering a wide array of books and activities for residents young and old.
The library’s services and their impact go beyond the pages of the books and into the lives of the people in the South Side.
“It’s not just all about books,” said Christine Wieder, South Side branch librarian specializing in adult programs. “It’s offering things to get people to interact with the community and support them in other ways.”
Wieder oversees activities from seasonal arts and crafts projects, to the Homebound delivery service, which runs out of the South Side for the entire Bethlehem Public Library system and assists those unable to get to the library due to medical reasons.
Wieder said she recently helped a woman who was having trouble with her home lease. Wieder was able to research resources for pro bono legal services in the area to help guide her.
“She called me a blessing, which was really sweet,” Wieder said. “I’ll be riding on that for a month. Just little things like that. People are super grateful when you’re just able to help them out with things that they’re struggling with.”
Brenda Grow, South Side Branch manager, said she often feels like the librarians should have degrees in social work.
The library also provides in-house services which are open to the community.
In April, the library started its inaugural citizenship class, taught by volunteer instructor My Lien Nguyen.
On Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m., Nguyen said she assists those studying for the citizenship naturalization test, preparing them to answer 100 questions that require a critical understanding of American history and civics.
Nguyen said when she went to research the accessibility of formalized citizenship test classes, they only existed in the Philadelphia area. None were offered in the Lehigh Valley.
“This is our first try here,” she said.
Grow said it has always been a dream of hers to offer a citizenship class at the library, so Nguyen’s class was a long time coming.
She said the library also facilitates a Qigong class, which is a form of ancient Chinese movement and breathing exercise, as well as a Spanish language class. These classes can be found on their online calendar.
“We also have a blessing box, which has food in it that you may take and some articles of clothing,” Grow said. “So if somebody needs something out of that box, you take it out, and if there’s something you don’t want and are willing to donate, you put it in.”
She said during the summer, the library offers a full food program for lunch which falls under grants from the federal food umbrella.
Claire Ebner, circulation technician and manager of the branch book sale and community service volunteers, said the work she sees young people doing to volunteer is a gratifying part of her work.
She said high schoolers and college students can find opportunities to volunteer at the library for service hours, whether they are helping her to shelve books or to price them for the book sale.
“Kids will come in here and they just know they have to get their hours,” Ebner said. “You really see them blossom and grow and take responsibility. They come in and they’re like, ‘oh, I know what to do.’”
Elementary school-aged children can expand their passion for reading with weekly storytime and playtime, all while engaging with their caregivers, said Stephanie Steinly, director of youth services.
“We offer storytime year round,” Steinly said. “We try to do a lot of parent and family-focused activities that would be on non-work traditional hours.”
She said they try to emphasize the practice of turning off screens and doing activities together as a family.
“The parents and caregivers can bond, and we stress things like taking turns, sharing, saying please and thank you, that kind of thing,” Steinly said. “Just an old-fashioned sort of experience that kind of gets lost in the rush of today’s world.”
She said the library also creates family fun night bags, which is a take-home activity that families can do together. This month, Crayola donated watercolor trays.
Steinly said the librarians get to know their patrons well.
She knows almost every child’s name who comes into storytime, and they recognize her as well.
“They know me,” Steinly said. “If they see me at the grocery store they’ll say, ‘it’s the book lady!’” she said.
Steinly said some patrons may spend all day in the library, and some may simply seek refuge, whether that be for air conditioning in the summertime or heat in the winter.
“We do get to know people here and we develop a sort of rapport with the people that come in,” she said. “We enjoy that personal service.”
For more information about the South Side Branch library and their services, visit https://www.bapl.org/south-side-branch/.