Library envisions bright future
A group of about a dozen residents are helping set goals for the Washington Public Library. The library visioning group, as it is called, met for the second and final time Thursday to discuss and vote on the top three priorities of the library.
The group was given a list of 18 different topics the library could focus on. The group narrowed the list down to its favorite eight, and then cast votes to decide upon the final three. The top three priorities will go to the library board, which will create specific programs to address each one.
The issue that received the most votes from the group was “Stimulate imagination/express creativity.” The group wanted the library to focus on providing materials for leisure. The group also wanted the library to provide patrons an opportunity to produce their own content, whether it be through a print, audio, visual or video form.
Becky Heil, consultant of the Southeast Iowa Library District, said the library could encourage creativity by hosting writer’s workshops. The library hosts a writing group called “Readers and Writers Fortnightly.”
With regard to video content, a project is already in the works to create a studio in the basement of the library for the local cable channel 18. The Washington Cable Commission has purchased a computer for video editing programs on the channel, which will eventually become part of the studio.
Another priority the group voted for was to encourage reading among children, especially those from age 0 to 5. The group believed that the library could be a useful tool for those youngsters to prepare themselves for school.
The third priority the group voted for was to help patrons find and evaluate information. Heil said that, in previous decades, a person in town who wanted to know a particular fact, such as the capital of Colombia, would call the library to find that out. She said people do not call libraries for those kinds of questions much anymore because of the rise of the Internet.
Washington library director Debbie Stanton said her staff still spends some time answering questions from the public, but the nature of these has changed over time. Most of the questions the staff handles now pertain to computers, such as how to download an e-book from the library or how to look something up online.
Heil told the group that libraries have to come to grips with the modern world, a world in which computers are playing a larger and larger role. Stanton talked about that as well in her annual report, which included statistics for what items were used at the library.
Stanton reported that checkouts for the library’s laptop computers were up almost 60 percent since the last fiscal year. Checkouts of downloadable audiobooks and e-books were up 85 percent. However, checkouts of print materials were down in nearly every category. Stanton said it is typical for new libraries to experience a bump in checkouts immediately after opening, and then to plateau a few years later.
Heil said that libraries have to stop worrying about teenagers checking out enough books, and instead focus on those things teenagers want to do, such as creating their own content.
Stanton said she’d like to expand on the library’s writing clubs. She said she’d also like to see a family summer reading program which would be available to all ages.
One program Stanton thinks will continue to grow is supporting local authors. The library has hosted a number of local authors in the past few years who have given talks to the public.
“We’d like to support people who have just starting thinking about writing,” she said. “Right now, we’re trying to get people to send in ghost stories, because there is no collection of local ghost stories.”
Marde McConnell, a member of the library visioning group, said she voted for the “stimulating the imagination” priority.
“I think it’s important to encourage creativity and get both youth and adults involved,” she said. “We could encourage retired people who have an interest or hobby that they couldn’t develop when they were working.”
McConnell said it would be neat if kids could create their own content. She said she’d like to expand the “create young readers” category to cover kids who are older than five.
A few issues the group talked about was collaboration between the schools and the library, and whether to have food or drinks inside. Heil talked about how libraries can set aside a series of books for a class of students if the librarian knows the students are studying that subject. Some of the group members thought that serving coffee in the library was not necessary since there are coffee shops nearby, and serving coffee can be messy.