by Valerie Verkamp
From a test kitchen designed to help individuals learn culinary skills to learning hands-on how to sew a pair of pants, the Mid-Continent Public Library system is exploring new ways it serves the public.
“I believe that a library can be a lot more,” said Steve Potter, library director and CEO. “I think that a library can do things like help prepare children to succeed in school. I think that a library can be a place to help people learn technology. I think a library can be a place to build community.”
The new library objective will be funded by the voter-approved eight-cent operating tax levy increase, which will generate $11 million per year for building improvements and expanding library services.
The library will remain a place to pick out books and receive good quality information, but it will also be so much more. That is the message Potter shared during a community stakeholder discussion at the Boardwalk branch on Thursday.
One of the biggest needs Mid-Continent says it plans to address is to reinvest in its library buildings.
At a number of locations, like the Boardwalk branch, renovations will not be possible. There isn't room to expand and building vertically would require a new foundation. Potter said it makes more sense to sell these properties and create a more versatile branch in a nearby area.
Mid-Continent has hired Sapp Design Associates and Helix Design to create a strikingly different configuration from its original 1990's design.
Potter said Boardwalk and the other 31-branches will likely be renovated, remodeled or replaced within the next six years.
Stakeholders also asked for extended hours. To meet this request, Potter said the library is now considering several options, including opening earlier on weekdays, opening later on weekends and opening on Sundays.
In terms of expanded hours, those polled preferred the option of being open on Sundays.
“Certain folks want us to be open on Sunday, because they want something for their families to be able to do,” said Potter. “So it makes more sense to be open to be able to do a storytime and family enrichment activities.”
Potter said it wouldn't be out of the question for all 32-branches to have slightly different hours.
“The goal is to be more responsive to the customers and the people that live in and around the library,” said Potter.
The library will begin to allocate funding for the extended hours in its new budget starting this July.
The proposed renovations, new library hours and objectives gave rise to an open discussion about its existing collection of books, online databases and children's literacy programming.
Erin Potthast of Kansas City said when her son was 13-months-old she came to the library to sign-up for a library card. That's when the librarian told her about their storytime for toddlers and preschoolers.
“My son is now on his third level of storytime and he has grown up here. It has been incredible. It is not just about reading a book to a kid, but it is the movement, the music and it's the arts and crafts. I want to see that continue,” said Potthast.
There was also discussion about under-served communities.
An ESL teacher said she would like the library to have more material that translates foreign languages into English, because some of her students across 17-countries have nothing in their native language to access and translate over.
Potter said he is aware of the diversity in and around this area and said another challenge they face is reaching members in our community from countries that did not have libraries.
“In a lot of different cultures there isn't an analog for the public library,” said Potter. “So even the concept of a place that you would go to get free information is new to them.”
Potter said it makes sense to help people along so they can become better acclimated to our culture and society.
Library patrons also identified teenage boys and homebound seniors as potentially under-served groups.
Potter said the library has a lot of in-house programs, like free tax help for seniors and Medicare Part D, as well as outreach services, including library-by-mail and library-to-go at the senior center at the Platte County Resource Center.
When it comes to attracting teenage youth, and keeping them out of trouble, Potter agrees that's a difficult challenge. He said programs like game night, poetry and storytelling appear to grab their interest and keep them engaged.
“Teenagers like to tell stories,” said Potter. “Sometimes they like to write their stories, sometimes they like to record their stories and sometimes they like to just tell their stories. So encouraging those language skills in a creative way is a good thing.”
Once the new Boardwalk branch is constructed it will have a community room with a stage for live teen programs. Potter is hopeful this dedicated space with comfortable seating will attract more youth to the library.
“People want to use their libraries as an intellectual oasis,” said Potter.
That is what Mid-Continent will strive to do, he indicated.