Library Columns Samantha Gambill

Celebrate National Library Week!

Samantha Gambill
by Samantha Gambill

This week, your local library joins libraries in schools, campuses and communities across the country in celebrating the dynamic changes that are happening in today’s libraries. Established in 1958 by the American Library Association (ALA), April 10-16 is National Library Week, a time to highlight the changing role of libraries, librarians and library workers.

The theme for this year is “Libraries Transform” and Gene Luen Yang will serve as honorary chair. You may know him best as the award-winning graphic novelist and writer behind “American Born Chinese.” Yang has worked on several other popular titles, including “Superman” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

In the spirit of the week, let’s take a look at how your Sebring Public Library and its parent Heartland Library Cooperative have changed over the years.

It may seem like the cooperative itself has been around forever, but it is actually relatively new. In fact, the Avon Park, Lake Placid, and Sebring branches didn’t become part of the subset Highlands County Library System until the mid-eighties. Before then, only the Avon Park and Sebring branches were municipally supported. The Lake Placid branch was one-hundred percent volunteer and donation supported.

Due to some forward thinkers, Jane Barben, Ruth Handley, and Hal Morris, among others, and with the innovative policies of The State Library of Florida and the help of our own local and county governments, the Highlands County Library System was formed. In 1996, the system joined with neighboring county libraries to form the larger Heartland Library Cooperative. The Cooperative has since grown to include seven libraries in five member counties.

The staff has grown, too, and more is expected of them. The majority of staff agree that one of the most important resource libraries offer these days is free access to computers and the internet. Public computers are used by patrons looking for a job, seeking a degree, accessing government resources, keeping in touch with family and friends, planning community events, filing taxes, making travel plans, dealing with business expenses, and checking email, among other things. At the Sebring branch alone, there are over two-thousand computer sessions every month. This isn’t counting the use of free Wi-Fi available to both library members and guests using their own devices.

Still high on the staff’s list of important services libraries provide is free and easy access to information. One of the main purposes of libraries has been to provide access to sometimes costly academic materials. Professors and school teachers know the importance of the accurate, scholarly information found in books and will send their students to the library in search of these physical materials.

Librarians and educators alike are keeping up with the digital revolution, too. The Florida Electronic Library affords every Florida citizen the opportunity to view scholarly articles on any number of topics. Moreover, academic and public libraries often partner up to allow their users reciprocal borrowing. Your Heartland Library Cooperative has just such a partnership with South Florida State College, allowing you access to their library and academic materials.

Libraries are transforming in other ways as well. Ask a Librarian is a human search engine giving users personal, warm interactions in this cold, digital age. Users can chat, text, or email with a Florida librarian to get the answers to their questions. Two of your three Highlands County librarians, Mary Beth Isaacson and Maria Chenique, participate in the program. Mary Beth became the SuperStar recipient for February 2014 due to her zealous contribution, both at work and at home, to the service.

Girl holding booksOf course, libraries are about much more than education. At the Sebring Public Library alone, members check out over seventeen-thousand items a month. This number is comprised largely of books, and most of those are read for entertainment. The figure also includes DVDs (around three-thousand) and Audiobooks (five-hundred) among the myriad other materials libraries offer. The combined total of items checked-out in all seven libraries in the cooperative is around sixty-thousand.

Today’s libraries are community hubs that provide safe places for residents and travelers alike to relax, commune with each other, and pursue their individual interests. Libraries cut costs for their members (imagine life without that huge cable bill) and help convince potential residents to put down roots.

Many a person has commented to library staff that they would not be able to afford the books they are reading without our help. Many are on fixed incomes or are living under the constraints of low wages. Those that are able to afford T.V. often see new books National library week 2016(1)or DVDs advertised by their favorite television personalities and are excited to find them at the library. Spontaneous conversations take place on the user side of the desk all day long–members thrilled to recommend books and other materials to their fellows. Invariably, the next question asked of us is, “do you have that here?” It’s always a pleasure to say yes, or “I can order that for you from another branch” or even, “I can get that from outside the cooperative for you.” Even better to see a patron smile after receiving the good news.

Programs are another cause for smiles at your library. Your Sebring branch offers adult coloring sessions every Friday and family movies several times a month on Saturdays. Works by local artists are displayed year round for your enjoyment. Local collectors fill our display cases with their treasures and we showcase a selection of books for most holidays.

We have an excellent and dedicated children’s library assistant who manages many programs. If you have young children and haven’t frequented Miss Krystyl’s storytimes, I encourage you to attend beginning next Wednesday. Krystyl also ran several sessions of “Crazy 8’s,” a recreational, after-school math club that helps kids enjoy the math behind their favorite activities. “STEAM Stars” meets on Fridays to encourage interest and participation in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics themed activities.

Of course, we can’t forget the annual Summer Reading Program, providing incentive for children to read during those critical months they are away from school in order to avoid backsliding. Children who read even four or five books during their vacation are that much more likely to remember everything for the new school year. Let’s not forget that in today’s society, reading is a necessity and not a luxury. Those who start young end up with the better communication skills (and resumes) going into an increasingly competitive job market. Not to mention the imagination and creativity born from traversing a hundred worlds, facing all manner of beasts, and learning innumerable life lessons. This year’s theme is “On your mark, Get set, Read” and will focus on sports activities.

In 2013, users paid libraries nationwide a billion and a half visits. Your Sebring branch alone receives between four and eight-hundred visitors every day, proving once again that libraries are a necessity both locally and nationwide. In the spirit of the week, become one of the eight-hundred and pay us a visit. We hope to hear your thoughts on libraries today and tomorrow.