Libraries are the perfect partners for healthy living initiatives.

Working intentionally with local partners, libraries connect their patrons to the information, inspiration, and expertise needed to change lives and communities.

Around 30 people filter into a medium-sized conference room that has been transformed – tables and chairs cleared, lights turned low, and meditative music playing. Everyone greets each other warmly and rolls out their mats. The group ranges from college students to retirees, and every age and ability in between. There’s a sense of community in this diverse group, and a sense of trust. This isn’t your typical yoga studio – it’s free weekly yoga at the public library in Cartersville, Georgia.

woman smiling while holding yoga mat

Hannah Arroyo (right), her sister, Ginny (middle), and the yoga instructor at Cartersville Library.

“Yoga at the library brings in all ages and levels,” said regular attendee Hannah Arroyo, 22. “In this setting, no one is judging each other’s ability. I have been able to build community and get to know people – I see the same people here as in the local grocery store.”

When Hannah first moved to Cartersville in the spring, she was having trouble connecting with others in her new community. She didn’t know where to meet others with similar interests, and so she sought out a familiar place to help.

“I found the nearest library,” she said. “I knew I could begin to feel more comfortable here.”

An avid audiobook lover, it was an unexpected surprise to Hannah that the Cartersville Library also offered free weekly yoga. This quickly became a go-to event for her.

Library Director Carmen Sims wants the library to be a community center. “We have this space – we should use it,” she said. And they do – the Bartow Library system also hosts tai chi, Scottish country dancing, a Maypole May Day festival, hiking, and more. Programs are well-attended and make the library an active space on any given day.

The library’s There & Back Again monthly hiking group walks along a winding 4½-mile trail through a rolling forest.

“Pine Log Creek Trail is beautiful – one of my favorites in the county – and I think it will be
a perfect place to see the fall colors and enjoy the cool autumn air,” said Adult Services Librarian Meghan Stipe, who usually has around 20
hikers join her every month.

As people come to the library for active programming, some stay and use the facility to check out books and materials.

“The library is my peace, and it resets my kids,” said Kearha Whitley. “I visit weekly, either for an activity or just to check out a new book. Yoga at the library was thought of by a genius. It’s cozy, relaxing, and what a great area to meditate.”

Many public libraries in Georgia offer movement-based programming like yoga or hiking, and every facility offers passes for checkout that allow for free parking at Georgia State Parks, along with a park discovery backpack that includes binoculars, a guidebook, and more.

Noah Lenstra of Let’s Move in Libraries, an initiative to get people of all ages and abilities moving, tracks movement-based programs in libraries. “My own research has revealed that the history of these programs is much deeper than most realize,” he said. “Although the healthy living at the library trend may be accelerating, it is certainly not outside our historical wheelhouse.”

He believes that libraries are a natural fit for active programming.

“Libraries are trusted community institutions that provide access to relevant and reliable information, community convening capacity, and that transform lives through learning,” he said. “We are the perfect partners for healthy living initiatives. Working intentionally with local partners, libraries can connect their patrons to the inspiration, information, and expertise needed to change lives and communities.”

In Cartersville, partnering locally meant bringing in yoga instructor Susan Rodney.

“Teaching yoga at the library is unique. We see lots of people who may feel intimidated going to a studio, but they are building confidence and ability in a trusted place,” she said. “And they are making friends along the way.”

Hannah Arroyo has found an added bonus to free yoga. She has been able to convince her sister, Ginny, to drive to Cartersville weekly to join her at the library.

“As sisters, we get to spend more time with each other,” she said. “And as yoga and library lovers, we couldn’t ask for much more.”