Library looks for public input
WORTHINGTON -- If you had more than 85,000 visitors tramping in and out of your house each year, it might start to seem a little small and worn out, too.
That's the problem the Nobles County Library is facing -- lots of use, loads of new and old materials and, quite frankly, just not enough room to handle it all.
"It's very obvious to anyone who comes in to the library that we have outgrown our space," confirmed Roger Spillers, director of the Nobles County Library. "It's extremely difficult for us to find room to place new items, and we lack adequate space for programs -- especially our children's programs -- and computer users, too."
In both 2007 and 2008, more than 85,000 people were documented to have stepped inside the doors of the library's 12th Street location in Worthington. Recognition of the library's heavy usage and increasingly inadequate facility prompted the Nobles County Board of Commissioners to hire an expert to assess its needs.
George Lawson, an Ames, Iowa-based library building consultant with 34 years of library-related experience, has begun interviewing county commissioners and local library staff in preparation for two community forums seeking public feedback on the issue. Scheduled for 7 p.m. March 16 and 10 a.m. March 17, these one-hour meetings are meant to provide Lawson with a public perspective on what the Nobles County Library can and should be.
"The space needs at our library had become so obvious, and with our area's growth in diversity and expanding technological needs, we thought something should be done," expressed Diane Thier, immediate past chair of the Nobles County board and a member of the Nobles County Library Board and the Plum Creek Library System board.
"A couple of years ago, they even shrunk the aisles to allow for more space, but it just wasn't enough," continued Thier. "They need room for new materials in different languages, the computer area is very cramped and the children's area doesn't have enough space for its programs."
Current square footage at the Nobles County Library is 8,000 square feet on the main floor; an additional 8,000 square feet are on the building's lower level.
"Tripling the size of the building would make it 'normal' for the number of people served," suggested Lawson at a recent meeting of the library board.
Myra Palmer, circulation and technical services supervisor for the Nobles County Library, said that to date, responses from library patrons to the building assessment have been positive.
"They seem to be for it 100 percent," professed Palmer. "They know we're out of room and would like to see a bigger library.
"We'd love to have people come to the meetings and give us their opinions -- they may be thinking of things we haven't even thought of yet."
The eight public computers available are in use almost every hour the library is open, despite the need for users to sit nearly elbow-to-elbow to do homework, conduct research, check e-mail accounts or complete job applications. A 30-minute limit on computers applies when others are waiting, which is the case most of the time.
"People are coming in not only to borrow movies and books but to perform essential tasks on the computer," explained Spillers.
Palmer noted the economic downturn has led more people to return to the library; she has heard many patrons comment they have quit buying books or renting videos in favor of using the services already provided for them by taxpayer dollars.
"Use does seem to go up and down, but lately it has been higher," affirmed Palmer.
Pat Demuth regularly stops in at the library with his family and is one citizen who thinks it's high time the county undertakes this assessment.
"The county needs to look to the future for a new generation and new technology," stated Demuth. "The existing building and infrastructure are over 40 years old, plus it's serving a totally different population than in the past.
"You're fine if you have a computer and Internet connection at home, but not everyone has that, and every time I go in the library, the computers are always full," continued Demuth. "Also, there aren't enough comfortable places for kids to sit and read in the children's area, or for the children's librarian to conduct the after-school or early childhood programs, and both are really critical to Nobles County residents."
More voices than Demuth's will have to be added to the swell if further action is to be taken; money, of course, is needed for expansion or improvements.
"We'll know more after the public meetings," said Thier, "but basically it will come down to money, to dollars available in this economy. The thing is, we're not just looking at needs for today, but for five, 10, 20 years down the road."
Lawson, the library building expert, says the five questions he helps address are: what is needed in a library facility, where it will be, how it will look, what it will cost and what will happen to the old building.
"There will be an outcome to Mr. Lawson's work; we just don't know yet what that will be," cautioned Spillers. "At present, there is no commitment to any building or remodeling or anything -- it's simply a study of space needs for the next 20 years. When that is completed, it will be presented to the county board and library board for review."
Spillers joins Palmer in hoping the public will take seriously its role in offering input about the library's space needs by showing up at one of the two meetings or placing comments in a suggestion box, should they be unable to attend.
"This is a chance for people to voice their opinions in a town hall-type format," urged Spillers.
Thier encourages participation in the forums as well. She exhorted, "I really hope we can keep libraries on both ends of the county, because the services are really needed by a large number of people."
The public is welcome to attend one of two community forums addressing Nobles County Library services and facilities: Monday, March 16, from 7-8 p.m., or Tuesday, March 17, from 10-11 a.m. Meetings will take place in the art center on the building's lower level at 407 12th St., Worthington. A suggestion box is also posted at the library.