WORTHINGTON — After Nobles County commissioners and ISD 518 board members voted last month to walk away from the collaborative W.E.L.L. project idea due to a lack of state bonding money, Nobles County Library Board members on Monday discussed its library space needs in Worthington.

Board chairwoman Kathy Craun asked fellow members if there was any value in the library board looking at options and visioning for the future.

“You always got to keep thinking about it,” urged County Commissioner Gene Metz, who regularly attends library board meetings. “If you give up on it, it will never happen.

“You maybe feel that you’re banging your head against the wall,” he added.

Discussions about library space needs have taken place for nearly 20 years, and yet the library is still operating in an 8,000-square-foot space. The last space needs study, completed several years ago, suggested a 25,000-square-foot building for a community of Worthington’s size.

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Metz questioned whether the pandemic has led to changes in people’s habits regarding library usage.

“I guess I wonder if the library is going to have the same focus it had pre-COVID,” he said. “I thought electronic would go further than it has, but it hasn’t.”

Despite being able to access information online, Metz said people — including him — still like to have a paper copy.

It isn’t just library materials that warrant more space, responded Library Director David Bradford.

“Programming is a big part of libraries," he said. "We don’t have the space for that. That’s the growth area as much as e-books and electronics.”

Bradford said if the library had strategic options and a plan for expansion, he could apply for grants to help fund a project.

“But we don’t have any plans,” he said. “If we had other ideas or options, we could jump on some grant money.”

Bradford said he didn’t want to spend time kicking around ideas, only to have the county say, ‘OK, thank you.’”

Budgets as they are — both at the county and state level — had Metz cautioning against additional discussions in the short term.

“There isn’t any discussion about (a library expansion) moving forward now,” he said. “It would be a pretty tough time to bring it up now. We don’t know what the future is going to be for the local economy and state economy. We’re pretty worried about next year.

“Somebody has to pay for this some day,” he added. “That’s my opinion and the opinion of some of the other commissioners ,too.”

Metz suggested Bradford schedule to be on a future county board work session agenda to brainstorm with commissioners some ideas for the library. Then, realizing there could be two new county commissioners following the November election, Metz offered that a meeting should be delayed until after Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, he also suggested the board explore the possibility of using the Nobles County Historical Society space once that organization vacates the War Memorial Building.

Bradford said the collections room would provide adequate space for programming, but what's needed is more space on the main level. He said the offices could be moved to the basement to free up more space on the main level, and mentioned expanding the building toward Fifth Avenue. With the building on the National Register of Historic Places, however, that may prove difficult. Also at issue is parking.

Bradford said he’d like to meet yet this fall to talk strategy with commissioners on what they want to do and what they don’t want to do.

Craun said perhaps the people of the community should also be asked what they want.

“We know what we want, but what does this community want? What is the goal for this community? What do the stakeholders in this county really want? What do they see for the vision of Worthington?”

In other business, the board:

  • Learned there will be two new computers placed in the children’s section of the library. While the computers will be internet-enabled, Bradford said they will be “very locked down.”

  • Noted that library usage, while still lower as a result of the pandemic and reduced library hours, is trending upward.

  • Learned Jerre Wiertzema was hired as Library Page for the Adrian Branch Library.

  • Discussed an application for a JBS Hometown Strong grant. Bradford said he was considering requesting grant funds to purchase Spanish language ebooks for the library.

  • Discussed future library hours. The Nobles County Library in Worthington remains open with limited hours, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, during the pandemic. With board members given a letter from library staff about usage, there was discussion about changing the library’s pre-COVID hours. The consideration is whether to open an hour earlier and close an hour earlier Monday through Thursday, based on community input and library usage. No decision was made. Bradford said the plan is to resume more normal hours once the Worthington library is back to full staff.

  • Was updated on the 10 Internet hotspots now available for check-out through the Nobles County Library (six in Worthington and four in Adrian). The devices can be checked out for up to one week at a time.

  • Learned that the library has water conservation kits available at no cost to the public. The kits, supplied by Minnesota Energy Resources, include low-flow shower heads and faucets. The library was asked to distribute the kits in lieu of the free distribution that normally took place during King Turkey Day.