Joe Rector, library director since May of 2012, and I, were talking about how to communicate the library plan. I asked him why he became a teacher and eventually a library director. He sat back in his chair and looked around his neat but very crowded office, full of books that no longer fit on the library floor.
“I wasn’t a good reader. My 1st grade teacher sent me to 2nd grade with deep reservations. I remember going to the school library and seeing a book called Black Hawk, Young Sauk Warrior, by Cathrine Cleven, one of the Childhood of Famous Americans Series,a 3rd or 4th grade level book.
I took it home and read it that night. I just made up my mind I was going to read it, sounded out the words. Finished it. I read most of the books in that series. At the beginning of the year, I was a non-reader. By the end of the year, I was at the top of my class in reading.” Joe’s final words were, with a big smile on his face, “A real tribute to the library.” Joe grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he read most of the baseball books in the juvenile section of Willard Public Library.
I sat back in my chair with a bigger smile. “This is weird. My mom took me to the downtown library in Peoria, Illinois. The kids’ books were arranged by shelf, 1st grade on the bottom, up to 8th grade on the top shelf. I was in third grade and took a book out. Mom smiled. It was from the 4th grade shelf, the one I could reach. I took it home and read it that night. From then on, we went to the library every week. She took out 3-4 books; I took out the limit, 8.”
“Ok, what was the book?” Joe asked.
“Chief Black Hawk, by Frank L. Beals, one of the American Adventure Series.”
We high-fived, knuckle-bumped and smiled.
In 2008, City & County voted overwhelmingly, 68% yes, to combine Alfred Dickey and Stutsman County Libraries. In 2013, the libraries have one board, one director, one plan, one system, and one bookmobile, but are still under two roofs. In a number of ways, the delay has proven beneficial.
The basic need, combining two outdated buildings that cannot be retro-fitted to meet today’s building codes, has not changed. Building a library that is flexible and able to react to the evolving e-world has not changed. What has changed dramatically over the past five years is the speed of changes in communication and publishing and the growth of smart-phones, tablets and e-readers. The gap between decision and implementation has allowed the current library team to visit newly constructed libraries such as Fargo (opened in 2009), and benefit from their experiences. Patron usage of the downtown Fargo library has risen dramatically. Community spaces for reading, studying, discussing, and sharing are vital. Flexibility and lighting are crucial to allow for easy changes in layout and function. The key is to be ready to change. Most important is the realization that traditional forms of publishing are not likely to disappear in the next thirty years. The key is a balance between the traditional world and the e-world.