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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

6 + 7 =