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Libraries Change Lives

October 29, 2010

Ya gotta build a bigger library!

By Bob Beery
Bob Beery

Bob Beery in the Friends' Bookstore

One of my early memories is walking hand in hand with my grandmother across Minnesota Highway 28 to the Carnegie library in a small town on the South Dakota border.
As I recall, it was a very, very large red stone building.  We entered through heavy glass doors and mounted a long series of wide, creaky steps, at the top of which was a massive counter presided over by Lucy Van Tassel.  It was obvious that she was there just for me!  She knew what would be the perfect stories for me.
In my recollections well over half a century later, Lucy Van Tassel’s library was the most important public place in that community.  Today the Rochester Public Library is the most important public place for me in this community.  Just like Lucy Van Tassel’s library, RPL is two important things – an inviting place and, far more significantly, it is a positive, knowledgeable, thoughtful staff.
My interests tend to be traditional – BOOKS.  However, the reference staff has guided me in the use of a number of useful online services and information sources.  They are patient – listening carefully even when my questions are not always clear, even to me!  Somehow, I am never made to feel embarrassed when they tell me something that should have been obvious.  (Yes, a couple of times a staff member has said, “Well, you might try Googling.”)
Every month, I skim through a wide range of RPL magazines, looking for the occasional article I want to read.
Throughout the year, I enjoy a number of author talks, historical lectures, public forums, and films at RPL.
Working in the Friends’ Bookstore is a special volunteer activity.  Here again, it is people.  Those who give freely of their time to support RPL are interesting and lively folks. And individuals who stop in to browse and end up buying an irresistible book or two are my kind of people!
Beyond these personal connections with RPL, I am impressed by the rich array of activities and services provided. Very special are the story times for toddlers, Saturday family programs, and unique weekly summer programs.  Just like Lucy Van Tassel’s library, RPL is a very special place for all of the community’s children.
Special access to the world of information and entertainment technology is there for all.  There are special work stations for people with visual disabilities, word processing computers and scanners, free computer access to the Internet, homebound services, foreign language collections, audio-books, CDs, VHS, DVDs, and more, so much more.
At a time of widespread economic distress, the services provided by RPL become even more important. RPL usage continues to increase at unanticipated rates. Staff somehow manages to serve ever-increasing numbers even as funding has become tight.

I emphasize library services.  Ever increasing demands for information services are facilitated by carefully planned adaptations of the physical plant.  Available capital improvement funds and generous donor gifts have been used to provide special shelving for CDs, computer tables, and furniture in the children’s area.  These and other expenditures are based on carefully planned and prioritized responses to service needs.
Few public buildings experience the day-in day-out year-round of heavy use as public libraries.
Maintenance of a busy library is a major challenge at any time, let alone in a time of tight budgets and rising expenses.  Nevertheless, attention to the physical RPL is exemplary.  The maintenance staff demonstrates the same work ethic and attention to detail that dominates all departments at RPL.
It was a special pleasure for me to be a member of the RPL Board of Trustees when the current library building was planned and constructed.  It opened fifteen years ago.  When I stop to think of all of the new and expanded activities added since then, I am not surprised to hear that there is an urgent need to expand the physical library to accommodate growing services and collections.  That is why the building was designed so that two additional floors could be added some day.  And, that “some day” has arrived!
The Rochester Public Library serves the traditional role of libraries going back at least to the time of Benjamin Franklin.   At the same time, it is “cutting edge,” making 21st century information technology freely available to all.
The key to RPL’s outstanding community services is the positive “can do” attitude and actions of staff. When I observe library staff members attentively and cheerfully interacting with people of all ages, I know that the spirit of Lucy Van Tassel is alive and well.

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