Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2014 | People

Global Connections

By Kathryn Howe
Literacy transforms lives, and magic can happen within the walls of a public library.

It's why Julie Lynch became a librarian—one who tries to share this magic not only through her job with the Chicago Public Library system at Sulzer Regional on the city's north side, but also through her volunteer work to empower young women in South Sudan.

Military Justice PHOTO: JULIE LYNCHWhether in Chicago or, as seen here, in South Sudan, Julie Lynch helps people and communities realize their potential with the help of public libraries.

"Libraries are these inspiring spaces where a child can flip through picture books alongside someone studying for a PhD," says Lynch, 93BA, 97MA, who was recently recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for developing innovative library projects at home and abroad. "Libraries meet people where they are at and allow them to explore, learn, and grow."

At Sulzer, Lynch oversees the Northside Neighborhood History Collection, ensuring that it preserves and makes available the stories of her diverse community. Earlier this year, Lynch embarked on a special oral history project to add the missing voices of the neighborhood's most recent refugees, asylum seekers, and others affected by forced migration. Her global perspective has also uplifted other endeavors—including the nonprofit Mercy Beyond Borders, where volunteers operate an all-girls day and boarding school in South Sudan on the premise that educating females is the most powerful tool for rescuing a family from destitution. There, Lynch established a full library of picture books, fiction, nonfiction, and folktales.

These young women need a place where they're not required to look after siblings or get water," Lynch says. "They have dreams, and they just need a platform where they can spark ideas and creativity."

For the impact she's made from Chicago to Africa, Lynch was selected as one of 26 librarians from across the world to participate in the Gates Foundation's International Network of Emerging Library Innovators (INELI), a program of the foundation's Global Libraries Initiative. This special group of strong library leaders shares a vision of what all libraries can achieve in the 21st century and supports the Gates mission to ensure that people in disadvantaged places can access information through technology in public libraries. Only 35 percent of the world's population is connected to the Internet with its vital links to economic, educational, health, and social opportunities.

Through her involvement with INELI, Lynch will attend conferences and receive training to help her uplift and improve the library services in her own community—and perhaps move the Sudanese village she's come to admire into the digital age.

"It feels like I won the library Oscar," says Lynch, in the first of her three-year commitment to INELI. "We're asking questions like, 'What will libraries look like in 2020?' They're going to be exciting, interesting places."