Libraries today are about people, not books – part two

Becky Kempf, Public Relations Coordinator
This is part two of a blog post on how the main focus of libraries has changed from books to being primarily about people (read part one here). Libraries today are changing almost as fast as technology. Part of it is because we’ve always been in the business of information and our mission is to provide you with the most accurate, up-to-date information available. This includes keeping up with the latest technology. Library catalogs are no longer on cards in drawers and there aren’t pockets for checkout slips in our books anymore. These days, because of RFD technology, you just scan your books and card at our self-check stations and you are good go!  You can still check out traditional books at Boone County Public Library, but you can also check out eBooks, Nooks, iPads, laptops and video games. You can even download free music and stream videos. (Did you know that some libraries check out fishing poles, cake pans, and tools?)

Library buildings are getting bigger too and if you’ve been in one lately, you know it’s not to hold more books. Libraries are getting bigger to hold more people!  We aren’t just in the business of books and information anymore, we’re in the business of people – of communities. Libraries today look hard at their communities and seek to fill in the gaps. Each library is a little different because they reflect the needs and wants of the people in their community. That’s what we do at Boone County Public Library, we look at what you want and try to provide it for you, whether it is answers to questions, resume-writing help or even fishing poles!  I asked some of my co-workers why they like working at the Library – what keeps them coming back day after day. If you‘ve been following this blog, you know that all of their answers lead back to people – serving people – serving you!

Shaun Davidson, Adult Programmer
I love that the Library brings people together to experience activities and events that are unique to Boone County. There is truly always something going on! I especially enjoy our free concert series, which is one of the very few places, if not the ONLY place in the county, to hear high caliber live music in styles ranging from classical to bluegrass. 

Jasbir Chahal, Branch Manager, Florence Branch
I love working at the Library because I find helping people very satisfying and rewarding. When a  customer walks in the door with a confused and scared look because he has been told that the only way he can apply for a job is online and he has no idea how to do it – we help him. We sit down and walk through the job application process together. Then when he comes back in, a few weeks or months later, and tells us he got the job – it makes it all worthwhile.

Another example –A veteran visited our branch and he was down, physically and mentally. We provided a little TLC and told him about agencies that could help him. The customer returned a year later and told us that he got the help he needed at the VA hospital and now has a job and an apartment. He just stopped by to say “Thank you.”

I remember one time, a young man stopped by the branch and asked to see me. As he talked, I kept trying to figure out where I knew him from. He told me that he had just returned from an international conference where he had the opportunity to present his project. He just wanted to let me know that he achieved this goal because of his love of reading. When I apologized for not recognizing him, I was touched to hear him say: “Don’t worry, I have grown up since you last saw me, but you know what, I will never forget your voice.” This young man was in my preschool story time some 20 or so years ago. When just doing your job impacts lives it is hard to not love it.

Candace Clarke and Carol Freytag, Youth Services – Outreach
Candace and Carol visit local preschools, daycares and communities with the library bus (Community Center on Wheels).

Carol: I work with small children and I like to ask them funny questions to hear their funny answers. They have a different view of the world than adults do. This is my favorite part of the job – talking to the children.  I remember one day when we were out, there was a boy checking out 25 books with his library card. His friend was amazed that he could check out so many books with his card and he said, “That card is power!” The outreach part of the job is so rewarding. We bring families things that they might otherwise not be exposed to.

Candace: There is an exchange happening – it’s not just us bringing stuff to the kids, they are giving back to us, too. We share in their excitements and disappointments – their joys and their sorrows. One day there will be a child so excited to be off of school for a day and then another child sharing how his father died six months ago and he’s still sad about it.

Carol: The children become comfortable with us, we develop a relationship. We try to be another positive influence in their lives. It’s rewarding that they trust us, we are usually at each stop once a month.

Candace: We are something different and exciting that the kids can count on. I wish I could be out all day long with the kids. I enjoy being out in the community. I like to talk to people and get to know them.  I meet people where they go to school, where they do business and where they relax. I like getting to know them better and hearing what’s important to them.

I really like it when several generations visit the bus at one time. The older generation will say they remember visiting a bookmobile when they were young and they are so glad that we are here for their kids and grandkids. It validates what we are doing to hear that we are important to them and that the service we provide enriches their lives.

Back to Becky
Yes, we still have books in the Library, but today books are just one of the ways we bring people together. This is your Library, Boone County, tell us how we can better serve you, we are listening.

Libraries today are about people, not books

Becky Kempf, Public Relations Coordinator:
We moved a lot when I was a child, and one of the first things we always did was get new library cards. The libraries we visited had lots of shelves of books and a few tables and chairs — nothing really inviting that would make you want to stay. We’d find our books and leave, only to return when our books were due. That’s all the library was to us – books. If you haven’t visited a library in the last ten years, you might still think that libraries are just repositories for books, but you’d be wrong. Libraries today are dynamic community centers, teeming with activity and brimming with people.

Walk into one of Boone County Public Library’s six locations and you will find people using the Library’s computers, chatting with friends over coffee, and reading newspapers and magazines in comfortable chairs. You’ll see teenagers hanging out with their friends, playing video games, and volunteering as reading coaches to younger children. Really look around – you’ll notice the elderly woman, who lives alone, engaged in a conversation with a library staff member, or the homeless man in the corner, enjoying the comfort of the library. Peek into the meeting rooms and you might witness a homeowners’ association meeting, high school students practicing for the ACT, or hear a bluegrass concert. Depending on the day of the week, you’ll find yoga classes, chess games, storytimes, and senior citizens playing bridge. And yes, interspersed between all these activities, you’ll notice shelves of magazines, movies, books, and more, waiting to be checked out. Books aren’t gone, they’re just a smaller part of what we do these days.

As libraries have changed, so have librarians. The job is no longer about books, it’s about human interaction. Today’s library workers facilitate conversations by bringing people together and offering communitywide experiences. They enable learning by teaching classes and searching the community for experts and enthusiasts to present workshops and programs. They also work to resolve a myriad of problems often fueled by technology or shifts in the economy.

One of the things I notice most about my co-workers at the Library is their passion for their work. I asked several of them why they like working in the Library, and it was unanimous —  they like helping people!

Tim Chatlos, Reference Librarian, Main Library:
I like helping people in ways you don’t often think about them needing help. Where else do you go to find out how to send an email, have a test proctored or get resume help – all for free?

Sometimes people just need someone to talk to – we do that a lot. Talking to the people who come to the library enriches my own view of the place. I lived in the suburbs of Cleveland my whole life before coming here and I never saw the mayor or city council members. It’s different here, because the library is such a part of the community. I see and meet people I just read about in the Recorder, people who are shaping Boone County and Northern Kentucky. I enjoy being able to put faces with the names of our community. We see so many different people, from Boy Scouts to concert-goers to people needing help with their taxes.

To me the library is like the community’s living room. Some people are here from open to close, others just stop in to read, pick up a book, grab a movie to watch that night, or meet up with friends.

We are here because the community wants us. It’s great working in a place people genuinely love and that’s such a large part of their lives. Because we are a part of the community, I like to think that asking us questions is like asking a knowledgeable friend or family member. I like that the Library is truly open to everyone. We have no agenda, but to help you any way we can. We’re not trying to sell a product or give you something you don’t need. We just want to help you. Our help is unconditional.

Amy Foster, Branch Manager, Scheben Branch:
Before I came to Boone County Public Library, I had spent 19 years as a law librarian working with attorneys, judges and law students. When I decided I needed to “change things up,” I knew unequivocally, where I wanted to be was working in a public library. In a myriad of ways, my position at BCPL is extraordinarily rewarding, challenging and fun. I love the fact that on any given day I can make a teen feel welcome here after school or assist in planning a class where someone might learn a new language. And, as the world changes and evolves, I love that the Library is adapting to these changes. Whether helping a retiree with a new iPad, so they can use FaceTime to communicate with their grandchildren, helping a student with a school assignment or simply providing a comfortable environment where a customer can sit in quiet to read a magazine, either in print or digitally, I find that I very much enjoy serving a wide range of people and meeting the varied needs of our customers.

I can’t think of another career I could have chosen where I could help such a broad array of people in so many ways and almost without question have them walk away smiling and happy. I would say it is my privilege and pleasure to work for and serve the people of Boone County.

Greta Southard, Library Director:
I work in a library because I like people. What drew me in though, was solving problems. People come in with problems – something simple such as what to read next, or a more complex issue, and I want to help solve it.

In my role as director, I enjoy making connections that can foster and facilitate problem-solving. I like coming together with other agencies to solve community issues. Quite often, the Library is the facilitator that brings these connections together. What can we do to fix this? What can we do to make things better? I like looking at the big picture of the community and narrowing it down to the ways we can help.

One such way we have done this was to start a conversation about food insecurity. We met with several organizations that each had resources they could bring to the table. We had a parking lot, the Freestore Foodbank had food, and everyone could work to secure grants to pay for the food. And look what happened; by working together, the mobile pantry has been to the Florence Branch parking lot 17 times since April 2012. It’s a small dent, but the group effort has been able to offer food to 2,293 families for a total of 7,800 people.

The Library has an outward focus. We look at what’s going on in the community and how we can help. We want to be part of the support network that strengthens the community.

Back to Becky…
See what I mean? These librarians are passionate and committed to the work they do! This is part one of a two-part blog post. Watch for the next blog post on January 30, when we hear from more dedicated BCPL staff.