My Catawba County
Libraries Are for Lovers
Love is in the air this week… and in case you haven’t noticed lately, there’s lots to love at your local library. Don’t believe it? Tell it to the folks who named February National Library Lover's Month. We asked Catawba County Library System Director Siobhan Loendorf to help us understand what makes libraries so lovable in Catawba County.
Some people may still think of libraries only as places to check out books. What are some examples of the breadth of services offered by libraries of today?
The library is a community center where people can connect, explore and grow. It is staffed with exceptional people who truly care about meeting the needs of everyone who walks through the library doors. People come to the library looking for books, movies, and magazines but also to use a computer, print out a document, use the fax machine or 3D printer, have something notarized, print off a poster, use the internet, or attend a program.
The library is also a lender of things including laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, American Girl Doll sets, GoPro cameras, Zumba kits, and outdoor games including Pickleball, Cornhole, Croquet, and Bocce Ball.
Our library spaces are host to engaging programs and activities for all ages, allowing people to experience a world of new ideas including author presentations, book clubs, crafting classes, technology classes, gardening programs, STEAM programs, exercise programs, etc. Last year over 4,800 people attended a library program either in person or online through Zoom.
What role do libraries play in our community, and why is that important?
Strong public libraries bring people together and are foundational to building strong, vibrant communities. Libraries are about providing equitable access to the resources people need to be successful in furthering education, career, economic, and personal lifelong learning goals. Starting with our youngest community members, the library has several programs in place to support early literacy including Storytime programs, 1000 Books Before Kindergarten Reading program, and the Bookbaggers lending program to childcare centers. For older children, the library offers programs to keep them engaged in learning year-round with Summer Learning, STEAM, and special robotics programs. Local high school students enjoy the library resources for college prep, internship and volunteer opportunities, and teen programming. For our adult community members, the library is a community center where they can connect with resources and each other while they pursue their own goals.
What are some of the ways the county’s library system has worked to become more accessible to residents?
The library has worked to meet people where they are out in the community. In addition to our seven library locations, we have the Library to Go mobile unit that sets up a temporary library at stops around the county. More recently, the library has added a Remote Pickup Locker at the CleanWave Laundry facility in Long View allowing people to place holds online and pick them up at CleanWave with a contactless pickup process.
The library has an extensive collection of online resources allowing people 24-hour access from home with their library card. With two of our apps, Hoopla and Libby, cardholders can download e-books, e-audiobooks, movies and music. A library card also gives community members free access to The Wall Street Journal, Consumer Reports, Ancestry.com, Legal Forms, Language Learning, Driving Test and so much more! To help folks get started, the library has added training tutorials with step-by-step instructions on how to use the online resources.
This past year, the library eliminated all late fees which have traditionally acted as a major barrier to access to library services. In some cases, simply the fear of incurring late fees would inhibit a person from using the library. In September 2021, the library wiped the slate clean and forgave all past due amounts for patrons and we no longer charge a late fee for overdue items.
Some people may not think of a library as a technology hub. How have the county’s libraries embraced technology?
The Catawba County Libraries have fully embraced technology with a focus on bridging the digital divide and providing equitable access to all community members. The digital divide refers to the gap between those who have knowledge of and ready access to digital resources and those who do not. In addition to providing access, the library provides workshops and one-on-one technology assistance to help people navigate the ever-changing technologies needed for school, work, and personal time.
For many, the library is their only access to computers and the internet. In 2016, the library started the Home Free project with laptop computers and Wi-Fi hotspots for patrons to check out and use from home. In 2020-21, community members used the library’s computers 22,773 times and library laptops, tablets, and hotspots were checked out 1,345 times. In 2020, the library established free Wi-Fi at seven parking lot locations, expanding access for community members to connect to the internet.
Our TechConnect space, equipped with a 3D printer, digital cutter, large format printer, sewing machine, GoPro cameras, and high-powered desktop computers, can be found at the Main Library and serves as a location where people can explore new technologies.
In light of the pandemic, the library has depended on technology as never before with a move to online programming through Zoom, allowing library staff to continue to connect and share with our community members. Our self-check-out stations and new Remote Pickup Locker are timely technology additions that allow for contactless service when picking up library materials.
What library services would people be most surprised to learn about (i.e., the library does what?!)?
It is difficult to say what people would be most surprised to learn. We often hear, “I didn’t know the library did that!” Some people are surprised that we offer Zumba and yoga classes, others are amazed that the library can help them figure out their new cell phone or apply for their dream job.
It may surprise some that we have a seed library where people can pick up and drop off seeds for their garden or that the library has two community gardens where volunteers grow produce to donate to local soup kitchens, donating over 1,000 pounds annually.
Is there anything else you would like to add about the value libraries bring to our community?
Catawba County Libraries ensure our community members have access to expert assistance with information and technology resources regardless of age, education, ethnicity, gender, language, income, physical limitations, or geographic barriers. Libraries strengthen our community and help create a more literate and just society. As a trusted space, the library brings people, information, and ideas together – anytime and anyplace - collaboratively addressing critical challenges facing the community by providing equitable access to the tools, resources, and spaces people need to succeed and thrive.