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The Neligh Public Library is running out of room.
“With ever-increasing programs, outreach opportunities and a growing collection, the community needs to assess the state of the current library facility,” library director Jennifer Norton reported to the city council last week. “Short on shelf space, storage areas and meeting room space, the current building no longer optimally serves the community as best it can.”
Norton said the Neligh Library Foundation will meet later this month to discuss the next steps of a potential expansion/remodel project. She urged the city council members to support the effort.
“This building was opened in 1989, so it’s 30 years old,” she said during an ACN interview. “And (former library director) Ruth Strassler reminded me that this building was paid for with no taxpayer dollars. It was all private donations with the main endowment from (Elven A.) Butterfield. That’s when the library foundation began and that’s its purpose, capital improvements as well as funding things that go above and beyond normal operating costs.”
She said the library foundation recently approved a survey to gather input and ideas from the community before taking any action on an expansion or renovation project.
“Overwhelmingly, people support their library and they see it as a positive in the community,” Norton said. “This is not staff-driven. We are basing this on what we see as staff because we’re serving the community.”
The survey results showed that community members are pleased with the staff and the library overall.
“To me, it’s clearly obvious that people love the library, use the library and want to see it continue as a vital part of our community,” she said.
However, many survey participants noted they would like to see additional meeting space, study rooms, kitchen space and a separate computer lab.
The library director said these needs are largely due to their increased number of programs, which are highly attended.
For the 2017-18 fiscal year, the Neligh Public Library hosted 480 programs with an attendance of 15,762 people. This accounted for more than half of their 22,548 overall annual library visits. Compared to the previous year, this was a 83 percent increase in the number of programs and a 69 percent increase in program attendance.
“When we have programs, they just overflow the meeting room and basically overtake the whole entire library, so others aren’t free to utilize the library sometimes at the same time that our programs are happening,” Norton said. “But, I view that as kind of a good problem to have.”
For example, she said the library’s after school program averages 30-35 kids, ranging from third through sixth grade, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. A few of the kids go to the library every day until their parents get off work.
“The meeting room is not big enough to contain them all,” Norton said. “If they were all sitting in chairs, yes, but that’s not what they’re here to do. You’re not going to get 30 kids to sit after school, and that’s not the point of our program. We’re not there to continue their education in a school setting, they are learning in a totally different way. Yesterday, we helped a group of kids play Clue for the very first time.”
The Friends of the Library pays for Dial-A-Ride to transport the kids to the library’s after school program, and the library provides snacks for the participants.The kids are encouraged to start their homework and offered assistance before beginning games and crafts.
She said while the kids are essentially taking over all of the library, there are often many adults on the computers.
“If you are trying to work on a resume, it’s really hard to concentrate when you’ve got a third grader running a Tonka truck down the hallway,” Norton said.
There are no expansion/renovation floor plans at this time, nor are there any cost estimates, but the director said she would like to see a separate children’s meeting space, possible reconfiguration of the computer stations and more storage and kitchen space.
The library currently has a small sink and a refrigerator packed into a small area. A microwave is outside of the kitchen near the staff desks. Norton said an improved kitchen would give them the option of incorporating basic cooking skills into their after school programs and allow the staff to prepare food for their family nights on-site.
She said their library programming and services continue to increase and evolve each year.
“The library is for everyone,” Norton said. “We want to encourage everyone to use the library, and we definitely want to emphasize that, although books are our bread and butter, there is so much more to what we do. Books are just the beginning and that’s our motto.”
The library offers traditional materials such as books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs and audio books, but also much more. Norton is a notary public and the staff can do scanning, faxing, copying, one on one computer help, digital archive lookups and outreach programs.
For outreach programs, Anne Dexter, the youth services director, conducts a traveling storytime twice a week to three different daycares. Norton, who is in her eighth year as director after nine years as the children’s librarian, offers a tween book discussion group once a month at East Ward Elementary and has so many students she had to break it into two groups. She also facilitates outreach programs at The Willows and Neligh Care & Rehab each month. Norton said reference librarian Danielle Reynolds and assistant librarian Mary Klinetobe both provide “excellent customer service” while helping people at the library.
“I think ultimately it’s just each staff member’s passion for their job,” Norton said. “I mean I love books. My favorite part of the job is not doing the budget, it is talking about books, recommending books, buying books and talking to people about what they are reading.”
She said the staff wants the public treat the library “as a community center.”
“We want it to be a place where people can come and be comfortable, sit have a cup of coffee, read the newspaper,” Norton said. “We pride ourselves on our customer service, that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to serve the community and help people with whatever they need.”
The Neligh Public Library, located at 710 Main St., is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and it is closed on Sunday. They can be reached by calling 887-5140.
“We are very blessed to have a beautiful facility and the support of our community and city council,” she said. “We are just to a point where we need more room is all.”
Library Journal has ranked the Neligh Public Library as one of nine 5-star libraries in Nebraska. Norton said the library is also accredited by the state at gold, the highest level possible.
“That’s based on the services we provide, the hours we are open, the staff’s level of profession, but mainly on the services provided,” she said. “The purpose of accreditation is to ensure library services are at a professional level as well as assure us of some state aid monies.”
Due to their high accreditation, she said numerous grants opportunities are available through the Library Commission, as well as private grants—avenues Norton plans to seek out if an expansion/renovation project is approved.
Those wishing to give monetary support to the Neligh Public Library are encouraged to donate directly to the Neligh Library Foundation, 710 Main St., Neligh, NE 68756.