The ink was barely dry on the brand new Alamance County Library Strategic Plan when I saw a new report from the Pew Research Center. The lead paragraph summed it up.
Millennials in America are more likely to have visited a public library in the past year than any other adult generation.
Interesting. That was my first thought. It makes sense. That was my second thought. And then I wondered if this information was factored in for the new strategic plan, something we worked on as a committee since the fall of 2016. Our group looked over the final report on Thursday during our last meeting at the main branch — May Memorial Library in downtown Burlington. M.J. Wilkerson, director of Alamance County Public Libraries even provided cake to celebrate the finish of our work — chocolate with caramel icing, probably my favorite.
According to the Pew report, 53 percent of Millennials (ages 18 to 35) said they used a public library or bookmobile in the past 12 months. For other groups library use declines with age — which probably stunned more than a few people. Gen-X recorded 45 percent use over the year; Baby Boomers 43 percent and the Silent Generation (71 and up), 36 percent.
So the 53 percent figure jumps out. That’s a lot and it’s not really a surprise, or shouldn’t be. While Millennials are a fully digital generation, they still consume information and sometimes lack the financial resources to purchase books, e-books or the technology to use an e-book. Many also have young children who take part in youth programs offered at every library in the nation. Millennials are also moving back to cities — where libraries are located — and away from the suburbs. And the Pew survey also revealed something else: Millennials are going back to libraries because libraries themselves are evolving.
Bingo. This was the essence of our committee’s work — plotting a course so libraries in Alamance County can mirror the changes in libraries across the nation, turning them into destinations, hubs of the community and places where people go to gain dozens of services or even be entertained. Libraries, sometimes seen as intimidating, would be more fun, interactive and engaging.
Today, we have a blueprint to begin the process and chart a five-year course for our libraries here.
As I mentioned in a post from January, our committee met monthly with Dr. Anthony Chow, an associate professor in library studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He studied Alamance County, conducted interviews and surveys and led our discussions. Thursday he revealed his recommendations based on months of research into our community’s economy, education, health and culture. Our committee came up with this Vision Statement: “Providing possibility, creating community.” Our Mission Statement reads: “To provide learning opportunities for all members of our community to be successful in living a larger life by nurturing the heart and the mind.”
From there we came up with core values and core competencies. This led to our High Priority Goals, which are: Provide access to high quality, trusted information and knowledge across the lifespan; be welcoming, convenient and user friendly; and provide innovative educational programs. How to reach those goals is contained in the strategic plan draft. Some of the ideas include growing staff, improved training for staff members, partnering with local agencies, work to gain greater funding, create physical or mobile sites within 10 miles of county residents, become more diverse, develop programs geared toward education and literacy. The strategic plan goes into far more detail on how these objectives might be met and offers a time frame for doing so.
Finding the money, of course, will be a challenge. Education isn’t a high priority for the Alamance County Board of Commissioners. But municipal governments have stepped forward in recent years and improved library funding. I also think corporate sponsors would be a major boost. This seems like a logical place for LabCorp to make a foundational nonprofit investment in the community it calls home. Libraries provide the first real building blocks for education and are the primary source for lifelong education in any community.
As part of his executive summary, Dr. Chow did offer 12 recommendations for the Alamance County Public Libraries. Here they are.
Maintain strong print collections in children, young adult and adult fiction.
Continue strengthening e-resources and access to those resources through mobile apps, a more robust website and digital literacy training and programming.
Prioritize children and youth resources, services and programming — design specific strategies for Spanish-speaking youth and families because of this community’s unique needs. Emphasize teen spaces and assistance with homework and / or areas to study or for group collaboration.
Continue offering innovative and relevant programming to the community with an emphasis towards tying programming with library resources that supplement programming.
Prioritize staff retention and morale — while salary disparities are being slowly addressed focus also on other key drivers of staff morale such as training, articulation and adherence to consistent internal policies. Emphasize quality over quantity to allow staff more time to focus on fewer projects. …
Prioritize economic and workforce development services, resources, programming and partnerships / collaborations.
Continue investing in modern technology, paying attention to trends that suggest physical computer usage in libraries are decreasing because more people have their own devices, which presents other opportunities for increased access and service to patrons.
Explore cybary or technology satellite branches strategically placed in rural communities with no broadband access.
Prioritize marketing and outreach and a rebranding campaign focused on educating the community on all the library has to offer and that it is no longer a dark, dusty place for books with “shushing” librarians. Emphasize access to state-of-the-art technology.
Explore maker spaces and maker kits that focus on early childhood development and literacy, STEM /STEAM, and for innovation and entrepreneurship (e.g. 3D printer, etc.)
Focus on the lifelong learning continuum in both educational and entertainment areas. This was the top priority for both patrons and staff. The library supports a patron’s quality of life across the lifespan and library as space, as a user experience and third place / destination (Barnes and Noble, internet cafes, etc.) continues to be a growing trend in libraries.
Consider exploring branches in both the southern and western end of the county, both of which are currently underserved.
Overall Dr. Chow’s recommendations are on the mark and provided a great road map for the development of more specific plans spun from our High Priority Goals mentioned earlier.
I know that getting pubic attention will be critical to the success or failure of the strategic plan. M.J. will present the plan to the Board of Commissioners later this summer — most likely in August. I anticipate the community hearing a great deal about it going forward.
I plan to help. I hope others do, too.