WORTHINGTON — Since hopes for an expanded library in a collaborative W.E.L.L. facility have dried up, Nobles County Library Director David Bradford is now asking members of the library board — and the community — what they want from their library.

“Why are circulation numbers going down? Why are we not doing as well as Marshall? What are we missing? What does the community want?” Bradford asked at Monday’s meeting of the Nobles County Library Board as he opened discussion on a potential study of community needs and development of a strategic plan.

A comparison of the Worthington branch of the Nobles County Library to other public libraries in Minnesota that serve a similarly sized population showed it had the smallest space, at 9,568 square feet. Also, of the 134 stand-alone libraries in Minnesota in 2018, the Worthington library ranked 93rd in the size of its paper book collection, 105th in visits to the library and 111th in the number of book check-outs.

While the Nobles County Library’s square footage is the smallest among communities of its size, the Lyon County Library in Marshall is one of the largest, at 31,677 square feet. That library serves a population of 22,303 — about 340 people more than what is served by the Nobles County Library.

A comparison of the two for the month of October shows the Marshall library circulated 8,868 items in its collection, while the Worthington library circulated about half that at 4,442. There were similar numbers in September, with 8,422 items circulated at the Marshall library and 4,579 at Worthington. Both libraries have had operations impacted by COVID-19.

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Bradford said although the Nobles County Library has conducted studies in the past, those focused primarily on building space needs. This study will be different.

“A lot of contemporary public libraries are community spaces,” he said. “Part of the study is to determine if there is a need for that in the community. If we build it, will they come?”

He also wants the study to encompass the library’s collection and potential changes there. For instance, if the library had more books by Latino authors, would it increase circulation numbers?

“Are there some simple, missed opportunities that we could easily take advantage of?” he asked.

From library board members present, it was noted that more education and information needs to reach the public.

Board chairwoman Kathy Craun said that during JBS employee tours last year, many of the people didn’t know what a library was, or that its materials were free to use.

“What changes do we need to do here? What do people need as far as information or education?” she asked.

“We need to educate them that it’s more than just books,” responded board member Peg Faber. “A lot of people aren’t readers. We have to let them know we’re more than that.”

Board member Andrea Duarte said the library’s hours of operation and transportation issues hinder access for some in the community.

Meanwhile, Bradford said the library is seeing a reduction in the number of children brought in for story time each week, and he’d like to gather information on that.

“We need the raw data — to start over,” Bradford said. “We need someone guiding, asking questions and getting people involved.”

He told board members he’d like to start moving forward on a study as soon as possible.

“We need information — that’s what we need more than anything else,” he told the library board.

Bradford said there are a few Minnesota agencies who have conducted studies for library systems or other nonprofits, and he was interested in reaching out to them for information on costs and how soon they could begin a study.

“Ultimately, the idea of doing this is to improve library services,” he added.

Also on Monday, the Library Board:

  • Opted to keep library hours the same for the remainder of 2020 — 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays. This is a reduction of 12 hours from pre-COVID operations. As a result of decreased hours and the pandemic, library usage is about two-thirds of what it was pre-COVID.

  • Learned that the library’s book sale last week raised approximately $750. The book sale was set up on the main level of the library, and Bradford said it would likely be located there in the spring as well.