National Library Week, which runs through Saturday, reminds people of the importance of libraries and how libraries can link them to a variety of resources, said Julee Hatton, director of library services.
The week has a theme this year — “Connect With Your Library.” These links can be forged with people, technology or services, she said.
First sponsored by the American Library Association in 1958, National Library Week is devoted to celebrating the nation’s libraries, contributions made by library workers and to promote use and support of libraries in communities, according to the ALA.
The role of libraries has changed through the years, Hatton said, although familiar, core elements remain.
Print books likely will remain a part of the library system, despite the prognostications that print is dead, or soon to be.
”A couple of decades ago, all the talk was that print books would be replaced by eBooks,” she said. “That’s not the case. There are still people who want print books, they prefer that as their format.”
But libraries now can better meet potential readers where they wish, Hatton said, in whatever format they want.
“We have customers who love print and then some who prefer eBooks or audiobooks,” she said.
Some formats, such as books on compact disc, are on the way out, Hatton said.
But customers are often surprised by the variety at the library, she said.
Libraries also remain important for research and IT access technology, etc.
The library system features local history and genealogy sections, for example.
“Some people don’t know that we have people that can assist with that research,” Hatton said, “People are always welcome to call and have librarians assist you with family research or anything like that. (And) we have a lot of unique local history items that are not available online.”
For those needing help getting on the Internet, the library has plenty of resources, she said.
“They can come here and use a computer if they don’t have a computer at home,” she said. We have PCs at all locations. If they have their own device, they can use our Wi-Fi if they don’t have internet access.’
Mobile hotspots that can be checked out are another option for Internet access, Hatton said.
Digital downloads are extremely popular, offered through services such as Libby, who connects users to a collection of digital eBooks and audiobooks available for checkout, while Hoopla is a streaming service with access to eBooks, audiobooks, movies, music and comics.
Last year, 41% of the library’s total circulation was in digital downloads, not physical items, she said.
Part of that may stem from the system’s Mockingbird Lane branch being closed during COVID-19, she said. The branch reopened April 1, 2021.
COVID-19 also saw reduced building capacities in effect at open locations until March 2021, along with reduced hours.
Hatton said she’s not anticipating any big changes in the system at this point, which is now ramping back up to pre-pandemic levels.
“We’re just getting back to the level of service that Abilene (was) used to before COVID-19,” she said.
In-person programming and groups are extremely popular, Hatton said, with programs at the various branches targeting all ages.
From a teen-friendly Dungeons & Dragons club (and an adult D&D club because the participants in the latter didn’t want to “age out”) to line dancing taught at the Mockingbird branch by a retired dance instructor to a cookbook club, there’s something for most people, she said.
The cookbook club is a “really fun group,” Hatton said, limited to 16 participants.
Cooking assignments are differently themed each month. Participants pull recipes from databases, cookbooks or other resources at the library, then bring a dish to share.
An example for April is a focus on bread and cheese, she said.
On top of those resources, the “Creation Station Makerspace” at the library’s main branch offers other opportunities, from 3D printing to a crochet and knitting club, Hatton said.
Bringing people in
Programming is important in general, Hatton said, because it brings it to the library in and gives them an opportunity to learn and find ways it can serve them beyond what some think of as its traditional services.
“We’re all about lifetime learning,” she said. “So, if you’re learning about line dancing, learning how to cook or connecting with the community, we’re just happy that you’re coming in.”
The future remains bright for the library system, Hatton said.
The downtown library will eventually move to Abilene Heritage Square, the revamped former Abilene High School/Lincoln Middle School on South First Street.
The privately-funded renovation is also set to house a branch of The Grace Museum, public meeting facilities and more.
Organizers most recently tagged an opening date of 2024.
Hatton said she hopes the eventual move translates to even more people in the community becoming involved with the library system.
But she also hopes for more opportunities for the library to meet people where they literally are.
”We also want to get out in into the community and let people know about the services that the library offers,” she said, via outreach visits to community centers and other locations.
“We just want to be more visible,” she said.
In the more immediate future, librarians are getting ready for summer reading programs, all with a theme of “Oceans of Possibilities,” illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
Blackall is, coincidentally, being celebrated at the 10th Children’s Arts and Literacy Festival on June 9-11.
“It just worked out that way,” Hatton said of the happy accident.
It’s a great tie-in for the reading program, she said — and another in a long list of great reasons to visit a library, no matter which branch you’re closest to.
Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
Abilene’s Library System
By the Numbers (2021)
►Patron visits: 256,391
►Computer uses: 30,480
►Items circulated: 346,855
►Digital downloads: 238,693
Total circulation: 585,548
►Reference questions: 35,106
►Interlibrary loan requests: 3,085
I►nterlibrary loan shipped: 1,611
Item purchase requests: 1,667
►Website views: 113,561
►Study room use: 2,566
644 programs, in-house and outreach
27,592 youth attended a program
118 programs, in-house and outreach
3,227 attended teen programming
212 programs, in-house and outreach
1,909 adults attended programs