So I jumped at the chance to participate when I was invited to an introductory meeting for an Elizabethtown Public Library Advisory Council last month.
The intent of the meeting was to get input from the community as the library plans for the future.
It was a great meeting featuring a wide cross section of 33 people from throughout the library's service area. They included residents from the borough and West Donegal and Mount Joy townships, stay-at-home moms, long-time residents, long-time library volunteers and others who have been newly introduced to the library. In addition, library executive director Deb Drury and a number of board members were present.
Everyone selected a table representing representing a topic of interest relevant to the library: technology, mission, development and program.
After introductions from Drury and some background about the library, each table spent time discussing two sets of questions. We recorded our findings and then reported to the entire group our most significant findings.
Here's a summary of the library's greatest strengths based on comments from each table (and many thanks to Drury for compiling and sending them). The broad strengths were determined through the discussion; the comments and opinions are mine and don't necessarily reflect those of the larger group.
- Centrally located: Situated in downtown Elizabethtown, there's no doubt the library's central location is an asset. It's not a long drive -- and is a very easy walk -- for residents. Since it moved from its former North Hanover Street site, the library also has become a defacto community center and hub. Witness the hundreds of people who visit the train display every December. And the past few years, the Taste of Western Lancaster County has taken over on a Friday night, with what seems like the entire community coming out to partake. Now, before you complain about parking, I have two thoughts: 1. Parking came up in every group as one of the library's challenges, so it's something that everyone recognizes. 2. How far from an entrance to do you park at the outlets in Hershey or Park City? My guess is that we often end up walking just as far there.
- Elizabethtown Coffee Company: Before moving to E-town in 1999, my wife and I lived in Hershey for a couple of years. And the library there was so proud to announce that it had coffee and muffins on a little cart a couple of days a week. So why not ratchet that up here in Elizabethtown and roast your own beans and sell coffee and tea and pastries where you can read newspapers and magazines and books? If Barnes and Noble can do it, why can't the libary?
- Team: This is not just employees -- it also comprises volunteers and board members. And as Drury said, the goal of the entire team "is to provide the absolute best possible service to the community as is appropriate for a public library."
- Physical plant is well maintained: My group didn't discuss this specifically, but every time I'm in the library I'm impressed with how great it looks. The bathrooms are clean. Books are in their places. Outside, everything is presentable. Just based on appearance, the library is something the community can be proud of.
- Education services, especially for homeschoolers: This is vitally imporant, since more than 2,500 childern are homeschooled in Lancaster County, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Those are numbers PDE's latest report, from 2006-07, online. With so many kids who are homeschooled, it makes sense for the library to provide the resources they need to be successful.
- Technology/Internet access: If you haven't been in a library in 20 years, you might not know it's not your dad's public library anymore. Computers abound for the public to access the Internet and the wealth of information one can find online. Speaking from personal experience, 10 years ago I was using the computers during a job search because the connection was faster than my dialup at home. The library's entire catalog is computerized and searchable online -- and you can reserve an item from the comfort of your home.
- Variety of types of resources: At the library, you can borrow books, CDs, DVDs, video games for various gaming systems, VHS tapes, books on tape and even cake pan molds (!) to bake a special cake. There's an entire children's section, with computers dedicated to youngsters' needs. We've talked about the computers and the coffee shop and how the library building is a resource itself for events and meetings.
- Positive atmosphere: Without fail, whenever I am in the library and need help with something the staff is willing to assist. This helps create a posititve atmosphere, where the public knows it can get expert advice and assistance from people who really love what they do. Lest I forget the volunteers who serve the library, they help maintain that atmosphere by sharing their enthusiasm and making it a great place for the Elizabethtown community.
Drury and the library board of directors are to be commended for establishing the committee and thinking long-term about where and what the library will be well into the future. I look forward to participating in future discussions.