“When I was growing up in Indianapolis, we didn’t have a lot of money. We weren’t exactly poor, but then again, we never vacationed at Disneyland. Maybe Rock City . . . the Smoky Mountains – or Kings Island if we were lucky. But even then it was just for a weekend. So when our family needed an escape, which was at least once a week, our dad would drive us all to the public library. There we would could find anything – and better yet experience anything – together through our imaginations. And all for free. But for kids today the library, and Cisco, is helping keep their families connected in a much different way.”
From typical kid fare like Danny Dunn and Encyclopedia Brown to thought provoking and radical books on the coming ice age and colonies in space, I ate it all up at the library. It was the original “Safe Space”, back when kids didn’t need one. Before the Reading Rainbow generation came along, the library near me was already my own private library of Alexandria, propelling my imagination beyond the financial limits my family had.
Recently I was reminded about that time in my life, and that there is more to public libraries than just a few good books to read. If you can stretch your mind and reach a bit further back into the bookshelf, past Dr. Seuss and fictional Justice League heroes, you’ll find a world of real heroes. I had the opportunity to met one just a few weeks ago.
Nick Higgins is the Director of Outreach Services for the Brooklyn Public Library in New York City. While Brooklyn is a long way from Indianapolis, both physically and culturally, my conversation with Nick sparked my memory of how comforting and reassuring the library near me was when growing up, helping me truly appreciate the value of his idea: TeleStory. It was born from a simple thought – keep families strong by safely connecting kids with their incarcerated parents.
TeleStory is a brilliant concept that provides a warm and welcoming environment for inmates to chat via a live video call, during library hours, with their families. This “Safe Space” lets the child avoid the trauma which may come from visiting a prison. During the live video call, the parent can read a story to their child and encourage continued bonding despite their distance. The incarcerated parent uses a video conference room located at their point of holding and that has been made more user-friendly. This lets inmate relax a bit, enabling them to lower their guard from the stressful level usually found behind bars. Their family uses a video room located at a local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library – a room with a window – so that the hustle and bustle of “real life” is viewable to the inmate (I imagine that helps the incarcerated better appreciate the value of the freedoms they no longer have).
By enabling regular live video calls with loved ones, inmates are able to retain some semblance of a normal life, which is key to maintaining their psychological health. More importantly, TeleStory is serving as a powerful tool to help keep family structures from crumbling by allowing the children of inmates to retain a father figure, avoiding the sense of abandonment and frustration that is so common in these situations; and that can often lead the child down a similar path as the father.
At Cisco, we feel very fortunate to be a part of this effort. By using our TelePresence live video call solutions, TeleStory is helping families stay connected, creating positive and life changing outcomes for the children of Brooklyn. And for me, it is reaffirming my own early childhood. One where I was blessed to have a loving father who was always there, and who gifted me with the reassurance of lifelong reading. And with Father’s Day nearing, what a better way to end than by saying “even though we didn’t have lots of money, you always made sure we had imagination – and the hope that comes with it – thank you dad”.
Learn more about the Brooklyn Public Library’s TeleStory Program at: https://www.bklynlibrary.org/outreach/transitional-services
Find out how Cisco TelePresence can benefit you at: http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/products/collaboration-endpoints/immersive-telePresence/index.html