Olmsted County Journal Article on RPL

This was a lovely article that appeared recently in the Olmsted County Journal. And it gives you some idea why the Friends do all they can to support the Library – including our book sales (tomorrow!)

RPL is one of the busiest in the State!
By Bill Lisser
bill@olmstedcountyjournal.com
Have you been in a public library lately? Ever wonder how the Internet and its instant access to information has affected the library?
I asked Audrey Betcher, Director of the Rochester Public Library that question.
“We don’t get the easy questions anymore,” Betcher said. “The Public Library is the number one place people go for Internet access. Research tells us that in Rochester 30 percent of them are looking for employment.” The Internet has changed how they do business.
Public Libraries today are a resource center offering many services to the community. The Rochester Public Library is one of the busiest libraries in the State of Minnesota. The number of visitors walking through the doors reached 550,000 in 2010.
“The library is conveniently located,” Betcher said. “Having as many people as we do downtown in Rochester, we are ideally located.”
People visit the library for many different reasons. Checking out books is still popular but there are CD’s, DVD’s, videos and electronic books that can be checked out. According to Betcher, “Electronic books represent three percent of the items checked out for the year.” When you consider the library checked out 1,613,740 items in 2010, that three percent represents a large number.
“We know we need to grow and change as the community grows and changes,” said Betcher. In economic hard times, library usage increases.
Betcher has been employed at the library since 1996 and has been the Director since 2000. Her enthusiasm for her job and helping people shows in her attitude. When asked what keeps her excited about her job she said, “It’s when you put information someone needs into their hands. We realize how important good information is to making life decisions.”
Community services go far beyond just checking out material. There are programs for children of all different ages based on development, young adult programs, and adult programs that help meet the needs of people of all ages. There are special programs offered to reach people with barriers to visiting the library.
Parents may take advantage of daycare packs available to help educate children on a variety of subjects. For example, if the parent wanted to work on a cooking project with kids you could check out a cooking pack. Each pack is loaded with a variety of tools to help kids learn. There are books, puzzles, and puppets to help make it an easier process for the parents.
There are also programs for children who have limited reading ability. Children may visit the library and read to therapy dogs. The nonjudgmental environment provided by the dogs enables the child to relax and be more comfortable reading. In this age of computers, the more comfortable a person is in using the computer may help make their life easier. So, there are the Little Tike’s PC’s used to introduce toddlers to the computer. Picture books to school support are all part of the library’s community service.
Computers are spread throughout the building for visitors to use and to help make life easier for employees of the library. There are computers for toddlers to play games and begin their development of using computers. There are computers in the young adult and adult areas as well.
“The young adult area is designed to get kids reading. It is not where they would go to do their homework,” Betcher said. However, there is a program developed for homework help. Students may connect one-on-one with a homework tutor. They have to indicate their grade, subject they need help with and preferred language, English or Spanish, and within five minutes they will be connected with a tutor. Three nights per week there are volunteers in the library. There is a youth advisory board that decides on the kids programs. The kids are self selected to the board and range in age from 13 to 18.
The services offered do not all lie within the walls of the building.
There are many other services offered to the community that require the library to reach out to individuals and groups. The Bookmobile reaches communities in Olmsted County not served by a library. Within the city there are deliveries to people who have barriers preventing them from getting to the library. These include nursing homes and prison. Volunteers deliver to people who are homebound in their residence.
For book groups looking for help, “Book Groups in a Bag” are available to check out. The bags contain 10 copies of a book and questions to make it easy for the groups. Betcher said, “Many groups book for an entire year.”
There is an adaptive workstation for those individuals with low vision and it is attached to a Braille printer.
If you want to do some research, there is a digital microfilm reader. People could research archives and find pictures and stories of interest. They can then take a picture and send the information to other people. Digital archives also include past city directories.
Among the other services offered by the library, a display area can be found where kids may bring in items they are collecting and display them. Three meeting rooms are available to the community for rent. The rooms offer a neutral gathering place for groups to hold events. There are study rooms for people who need a quiet area and you can bring your own computer to use and connect to the Internet through Wi-Fi. Browsing the collection of items at the library you will find things you won’t see other places. “International films, we are the place to go,” said Betcher. The library hosts a free showing of an international film each month in the auditorium.
If you are looking for a resource it is made easy with the Social Media of your choice. You can call, e-mail, IM or text if you aren’t able to make it to the building. You may go to Facebook or Twitter also. Can’t find what you are looking for? Just go to “Ask the Librarian.” Ask the Librarian is a 24/7 service provided by a consortium of people. If you are looking for something at 2 A.M. you may still get your answer because of the whole consortium of people located in different time zones. According to Betcher, “the library world does cooperation better than anybody.”
How do they keep track of over one and half million items checked out last year? The old card catalog system was thrown out years ago. There is an automated system that checks material in and sorts it. When you drop your material in the drive up window there is an automated process of checking in the material and sorting it. If someone is on the waiting list for the material it is identified so the individual may be notified. “We had to be able to do routine tasks simpler or we wouldn’t have enough people,” said Betcher. The goal is to have material back on the shelf within 24 hours.
The library depends on community support in many ways. Volunteers and charitable giving is very important. Annual volunteer hours are approximately 17,000 hours. During the Race Exhibit the number of voluntary hours increased to 20,500 hours. Charitable donations of material reached $250,000 in 2010. The Friends of the Library Book Store also contributed $52,000. The book store is operated 100 percent by volunteers and all proceeds return to the library budget.
“I appreciate being in a community that values us,” said Betcher.
The library is currently hosting an exhibit, “Homeless is My Address Not My Name.” The project began in 2008 with collecting basic stories and portraits of homeless people at an event called Project Homeless Connect Minneapolis. The event was a one-stop-shop resource fair attended by over 1,500 homeless individuals. People share their story with a trained interviewer. Following the interview, individuals may have their portrait taken and photos printed while they wait. The photos are on display through December. Different photos are on display at the Government Center and Rochester Community and Technical College.
The Rochester Public Library is a member of SELCO, the combined holdings of member libraries in Southeast Minnesota and another group of libraries that represents the entire state. As part of the advantages of being a member of these groups, cardholders in Rochester may use their card to check out material at other libraries.
And remember those past due fines? They still exist! One of the most popular services of the library is an e-mail notifying people two days before the checked out item is due. But don’t worry; the library doesn’t depend on the late fees to function. The money collected from overdue fines represents only a very small amount of the library budget; two percent. The library is funded by city and county property taxes.

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