Off the Shelf: New Year, New Opportunities

Looking back, it is a bit ironic that I started last year with a column about the value of change. That column optimistically looked at the benefits of past changes we’d made at the library and the changes we looked forward to making in the new year. I naively wrote, “Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with all of the change in the world, our community, and our lives. There is no denying that change, especially when it is unexpected or outside our control, can be challenging.” Oh, how little did I know the unexpected challenges and changes to come in 2020.


A change in the calendar to this new year doesn’t make those challenges disappear. And, this year more than ever, it can be tough to start the year with optimism. Yet, as my dad says about aging each year around his birthday, “it beats the alternative.” So my intention for this year is to find a balance between acknowledging and respecting the challenges and still celebrating the successes and looking for the new opportunities.


One chance that I get each year to look back and be reminded of the successes is when I write the library’s annual report. They are done on a fiscal year basis, so the latest one goes back into 2019 (July 2019-June 2020). You can find our annual reports on the library’s website.


This year I wrote it in the fall and found it refreshing to be reminded of successes, like the fact that in March-May of 2020 the former coffee shop was remodeled. We have used the room often, but not yet in the way we intended. The new Create Space will be a meeting area and classroom for hands-on learning and engagement. I look forward to the day we unveil it and to seeing it bustling with activity.


In the past few years, we’ve received six STEM Scale Up awards, including two of them in 2020. These awards come with staff training and lots of great STEM tools such as robotics, circuitry, and other kits for building, learning, and creating. The Create Space will be the perfect place to offer classes for all ages that put these tools to use.


Until then, we are offering weekly Little Learners kits for ages 2-6 and CoLab kits for older kids that can be picked up at the library, while supplies last. Both kits explore new themes each week and provide directions and materials for children and families to do experiments and create together. A video also goes out on Facebook each week to review the kits.


In the last year, we also upgraded our network and improved our WiFi, which is available around the clock in our parking lots. We are making plans for further improvements to the system. Additionally, we more than doubled our collection of mobile hotspots with about 30 in nearly constant circulation to support the technology access needs of our community.


We installed new, easier to use self checkout stations last year and added more attractive security gates that allow for wider entry aisles as well as better functionality. We also upgraded the parking lot lights to LED in the last fiscal year, which made the lighting coverage better and will result in efficiencies for years to come. That project completed the last step in converting all of our lighting, inside and out, to more efficient products. We even had a local group donate great new lighting for our flagpole, which looks so much better now.


We remodeled our youth area to create a new toddler section, thanks to a private donation, funding from the Library Foundation, and a grant from the Alliant Energy Foundation. The Kiwanis Club helped us fund a Money as You Grow collection in the children’s area, and we created a Money Matters section for adults, too.


With all that, I haven’t even begun to talk about the resourceful, creative team of staff members who, propelled by unexpected outside circumstances, rose to the challenges of change again and again over the last year. They successfully adapted classes and events to virtual and take-home opportunities and even converted to a virtual summer reading program. They developed multiple curbside library services, added digital cards, created new readers advisory services, learned new ways to assist with technology needs, and so much more.


While we are only a few weeks into the new year, we are planning for new opportunities. We are updating our website, continuing to work on a new database to assist local researchers, and already planning our summer reading program. We added new tutorials to our website that provide useful guides to using our collection of streaming and downloading options and making the most of other online tools.


In addition to the Little Learners and CoLab kits, you can pick up kits to supplement virtual Babygarten and Wiggle Time classes, get a kit for our monthly Create.Learn.Imagine class, or make bird feeders from this month’s Kindness Club kit. The Kindness Club is also continuing to accept warm clothing in partnership with Miss Great River’s project.


Our Winter Reading Program started on the 11th and runs through the end of February. With cold and snow, curling up with a good book is a great way to spend some time each day. This program gives readers of all ages another incentive to build a practice of reading regularly.


We are offering appointments to come in the library to browse and checkout materials or to use the public computer lab. Curbside services continue to be offered, and our Digital Library is always open. You can contact your library team by phone, email, or social media.


See you at the library!