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Commissioner: County Libraries Adapt To Reduced Hours

Washington County Board member Dennis Hegberg discusses how the library system is working with a reduced budget.

The daily discussion and news stories about tough times for local governments usually center on one thing: what services or programs will be cut.

In Washington County, several of our service models are looking at a different approach, which we could call "adapt." One of the most significant examples is the Washington County Library.

The library is in an enviable position of having as its mission the delivery of information and directing customers to exploring new ways to learn about new things.

With that in mind, the library is taking advantage of the explosion of new technology that delivers information to customers when, where and how they want it. That will help when the library will have an .

Lending books, music and movies is a mainstay of the library's service, and will remain so. However, with budget reductions, customers may have to plan more carefully when seeking a particular book or DVD.

In 2012, to absorb the cutbacks, so a trip to the library may have to be during evenings or Saturdays.

At the same time, changes in the schedule mean that libraries in Cottage Grove, and Forest Lake will be open 10.5 hours three days a week, which should accommodate work, school and commuter schedules.

Customers who wish to use “Express” services will have expanded opportunity in 2012. Express library services allow customers to request books online, either at home or from any public computer. Library staff place materials— available 24 hours a day, seven days a week—in a locker for retrieval.

Express service is available in Hugo already, and will expand to Marine on St. Croix and Newport in 2012. This means customers may pick up a book on the way to the grocery store or on the way home from church.

At the same time, the community of Marine is "adapting" in its own fashion. Members of the community worked with Washington County to combine an Express service provided by the county with a "reading room" organized and operated by community members, offering a browsing collection and a place to gather.

But county residents know that a library is much more than a place to pick up books. School-age students use the library's website for homework help, and job seekers find both free access to computers, as well as job search help at libraries.

Both services include online chat services. Those with little ones have storytimes to teach literacy skills. Children and teens have programs to stir their interest in reading and learning, and all age groups can find a book group to discuss a book with.

And the library goes beyond services inside its buildings. The library has an extensive, and growing, selection of e-books and audio books that can be downloaded from any computer, anywhere, anytime. It is just one way the library is responding to changing habits of customers, and making sure they receive the materials they want in a way that is convenient.

Libraries continue to be gathering places for community residents, and the new hours were chosen to reflect people's patterns. The morning hours appeal to the oldest and the youngest folks. Seniors come in the morning to read, discuss and browse. Children come with parents or caregivers for storytimes and look for books to read.

In the afternoon once school is out, the library branches are full of students from about 2:30 p.m. until dinnertime. The evenings appeal to adults who participate in book clubs, attend programs and come to pick up materials.

Along with the growing use of electronic delivery of information—and a mushrooming variety of ways to find entertainment—library use continues to play a strong role in residents' lives. Visits to the library and the use of electronic services continue to grow.

It can easily be said that Washington County residents love their libraries, and the libraries are adapting under difficult conditions to be sure they can continue to earn that love in the future.

Edward November 29, 2011 at 03:39 PM
Closing on Sundays hurts the students, who use the library to get work done before the school week begins. My kids were big Sunday library users, as it was a place to get away from distractions at home (internet, TV, other family members) and focus on studies. Thank God they are through high school, as the Sunday and Monday closings would have been a disaster for them.
Eric Berg November 29, 2011 at 05:52 PM
I can't imagine the "Express" service. To me, there's something about browsing the stacks and coming upon a book on a topic that you might not have ever considered before...or when I'm doing research. I like the ability to be able to skim the contents or the index to see if it's something germane...but, then again, during high school and college, I worked in two different libraries, so I'm just a book nerd. :) I suppose it's really no different than ordering a book from an inter-library loan. I do understand that budgetary decisions were required and that those closest to the situation are often in the best position to understand the finances and do an effective cost/benefit analysis. I just hope that, as I had said in another library post, this leads to a discussion of how to most effectively utilize scarce resources in the long term.

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