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Our View: The future of our libraries

Published: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 5:31 a.m. CDT

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The Geneva Public Library is at a crossroads after opting not to pursue purchasing an alternate site the board had been eyeing.

While remaining at its current downtown location is an option, many library advocates think Geneva has outgrown the building on James Street, with insufficient space for meetings, computer use and parking.

Geneva’s longstanding concerns about its building appear to be coming to a head, but this is a crucial period for other libraries in the area, too.

Any industry revolving around the printed word faces doomsday projections these days. But if libraries are on the verge of becoming obsolete as some suggest, then why are so many of our libraries crammed with patrons – young, old and all ages in between – on a daily basis?

The numbers bear that out. St. Charles Public Library patrons checked out more than 1.5 million items in 2012-13, according to the library’s annual report. The Batavia Public Library circulated more than 800,000 items in 2012, while Geneva’s total was about 568,000, according to its 2011-12 report.

Almost 2,000 new library cards were issued during that period in the Geneva Public Library District to bring its number of registered patrons to 16,728.

Even in a technology-saturated society, communities need hubs and gathering places, and libraries remain positioned to serve that role well into the future. Planning that future, though, is a tricky proposition for library leaders, with so much uncertainty about what methods of reading and learning will prove popular going forward.

As Kane County Chronicle reporter Brenda Schory wrote this week, library directors are noting a growing demand for open spaces for programs, group projects and tutoring. Meeting those space demands is a major challenge, especially since most facilities were designed during a time when providing books, not activities, was a library’s dominant mission.

With so many new services continually being offered – for example, in Geneva, library director Matt Teske said e-books have taken off in recent years, while the St. Charles Public Library is adding an “interactive, early learning center” to its Youth Services area – it is important for libraries to communicate what they have to offer to community members. A resident who has not visited his or her local library recently might be pleasantly surprised about features that were not in place just a few years back.

As for Geneva, a meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Oct. 24 in which the library’s future goals will be discussed. 

“Once we establish what our priorities are, I think we might be at the point where we’re going to need some professional assistance in helping us determine our space needs and how doable that would be at this location,” Teske said.

These are critical times for community members to offer input about their libraries’ futures.

Your local library’s relevance is at stake.

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