The Anoka County Library is in the middle of a major strategic planning process that could increase the library’s focus on technology, launch an experimental “browsing” library with fewer books and a heavier focus on space and services, and create new programming targeted toward children (giant word blocks, for one) and seniors (genealogy classes).
Marlene Moulton Janssen, the library’s director, said that she is soliciting input from community members and hopes to present a final plan to the public in June.
The last strategic planning process for the library was five years ago, but she said the timeframe for reevaluating the library’s mission is being contracted as technology accelerates change, and she will look to take another look at the library’s curriculum within three years.
“We need to provide that physical space, that gathering space, that physical identity, the third place between work and home and at the same time we need to be offering virtual, 24/7 resources to those who need them,” Janssen said. “Physical books are still going to be valued by our community for five to ten years, and I might be wrong—people may still be using books for the next 20 years.”
The library is already teaching its patrons—specifically seniors—to use e-readers, Janssen said, though e-books were only 46,000 of the 3 million items the library loaned out in 2011.
“We see that a lot of seniors are readily adapting to e-readers because it’s not a large-print book and you’re able to increase the size of the font without having to carry around this very heavy tome,” Janssen said.
Ben Trapskin, the deputy director of the Anoka County Library, said that technology has been something of a double-edged sword. Customers can pick up their own holds (enjoying more privacy about their reading selections) and can look up factual resource questions themselves, but they have lost interaction with staff and the library’s staff hours have been reduced by 25 percent in the last three years.
Now, Trapskin said, services have become more important.
“Someone coming in may be filing for unemployment for the first time, and they’ve never used a computer, never even used a mouse,” he said.
A bold, new library
One option for addressing these trends is a plan for changing an existing library into a futuristic one, meaning fewer books, more meeting spaces and more computers.
“As we try to envision the library of the future, one of our options is to take one of our branches and try to model what we think a library might look like—gathering places for kids, gathering places for seniors—but if we’re going to do that in our existing building footprint, we’re going to need to evaluate what are our services that our residents value the most,” Janssen said.
Such a library might make use of the influx of volunteers Janssen expects as baby boomers retire to create a community space where, Janssen said, “teens work with their grandparents or the equivalent of their grandparents.”
Janssen stressed that patrons would still be able to place holds and check them out at this type of futuristic library.
“Obviously people still have an interest in having a container—a book, a DVD, a physical medium,” she said.