To paraphrase the great Mark Twain, the death of libraries is greatly exaggerated. Technological changes and budget cuts have had a big impact on how libraries function in the community, but the core mission of providing a space for learning, literacy, entertainment and cultural engagement remains as something public libraries are in a position to fill.
In particular, libraries are used by people who do not have access to technology. As government services, job searches and business opportunities move online, the ability to use a reliable internet connection becomes an increasingly necessary resource.
“Not everyone can afford technology, and those are the people who are under-served, especially in areas like our county,“ said Van Zandt County Library Director Suzie Pulley. “They rely on the library. With technology, things have been added to our responsibilities, but without any addition of funding or staff.”
To fill the money gap, supportive organizations have stepped up to provide funding for many library programs. “Friends of the Library” groups in particular provide volunteer labor, public advocacy and a source of donations by applying for grants.
Since its inception in 2013, the TVEC Charitable Foundation has contributed $34,000 to library groups in the TVEC service area. Many of those donations have been targeted for summer reading programs. By adding fun educational entertainment and reading incentives, organizers have seen rapid growth in participation.
“We were hitting capacity for fire code, so we have had to double book everything with two programs each day,” said Henderson County Library Director Rachel Cox. “And since we started trying to help the early literacy issues in the county, we have been giving away free books. When the kids finish a reading log, they get a free book, and we gave away almost 1,000 books last year.”
All of the fund raising efforts and volunteer time add up to big results, with upgrades to facilities and technology to help libraries stay current with community needs.
“We depend on Friends of the Library and generous groups like the Foundation that support us and give the money to do the things that our county residents need—not just want, but need,” Pulley said.
For more information about volunteer opportunities, visit your local library.