When a team from the La Porte County Public Library attended the Public Library Association Conference in Nashville, Tennessee back in February to give a special presentation, they were initially assigned to a small conference room big enough for about 100 people. But as their panel drew closer, conference officials moved the group to another room, this one big enough for more than 500 people, in order to meet the increasing interest to learn how the library was meeting a community need in a unique way.
Their presentation was about the Library of Things—a special collection of nontraditional items like equipment, games, craft supplies, and more that the library loans out to patrons much like they do books, movies, and music. Libraries of Things can be found around the country, offering an assortment of items for community members. Fonda Owens, Director of the La Porte County Public Library, said it was a just another step to be a one-stop-shop for the La Porte community, where the library has met the demand for learning and gaining new skills with great enthusiasm.
“We are always challenging each other to be ahead of the curve in anticipating community needs or wants,” said Fonda Owens, Director of the La Porte County Public Library. “There is a real demand for things like soldering classes, sewing classes, even converting VHS tapes to DVDs - being curious, talking to people, and fostering that creative, innovative way of doing our job all the time.”
“We want everyone who comes to the library, whether it’s virtually or physically, to have a real positive experience.”
That has been even more relevant over the past few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the library temporarily shut its doors, one of the many region public libraries to do so in an attempt to halt the spread of coronavirus, staff went into high gear, brainstorming and finding new ways to serve the La Porte County community virtually during a time of great uncertainty. This involved looking at the library’s current strategic plan and its mission.
“Our mission is that we are a center for community life, with a focus on reading, lifelong learning, and public involvement,” Owens said. “That mission provides a foundation for what we do.”
“So, take for example students and E-Learning,” she continued. “This meant providing support for students, their families, and educators as they try to navigate through all this.”
This community support for La Porte students and educators, including the parents who suddenly became educators when quarantine began, came in the form of helping to maintain reading levels and skills as they were away from their regular schooling. The library provided electronic resources that were appropriate and easily shared with students and parents, something Owens herself has been passionate about in her life even before our world required it.
“Reading—what can you do if you can’t read? For example, it’s hard to navigate a video game if you can’t read,” Owens said. “You have to be able to read the instructions, to navigate the world, look for the secret kit, or whatever your role in a game is. All of that depends on reading and comprehension.”
“It still remains as one of the most important things for a child’s and a person’s quality of life that they can read, and understand what they’re reading,” she said.
Accessibility, whether it’s to a sewing class or reading new pieces of literature, and being a true community center have always been the library’s foundation—a sentiment that Owens shares as well. Growing up in Virginia, she remembers the Book Mobile coming to her house and how important that introduction to literature and knowledge was to her at a young age.
“I remember doing summer reading programs from the Book Mobile that came to our house every couple of weeks,” she said. “It was like an introduction to a whole new world. The collection was small, but there was always something for me and my sisters.”
“In some ways, contributing to making that same opportunity available to others is what makes this work worth it.”
Owens and her staff have taken that to heart, now going out of their way to make sure La Porte residents are able to have access to knowledge and skills, now that the library is open. From curbside pickup for books to their summer reading programs, the library’s staff is excited to continue their mission of connecting people and ideas.
That couldn’t be truer as the library prepares to renovate the old telephone switchboard building in La Porte into the new La Porte County Public Library Exchange. Donated to the library five years ago, the new building will be the center for the exchange of ideas.
“We will have a recording studio, a video studio, a maker’s space on the upper level—it’s really exciting,” she said.
“Connecting people and ideas, that’s our motto,” Owens said proudly. “I really think it summarizes everything that the library is about. Connect people to new ideas and new information. That’s what we have always wanted to do.”
For more information about the La Porte County Public Library, please visit https://laportelibrary.org/.