Anybody who grew up 30, 20, even 10 years ago, would know a library as a place for quiet reading and study, whispered conversations and stern looks for causing any sort of disturbance, no food or drink, no music outside of headphones, no video games or messy art activities. And certainly no running.
Those libraries are a thing of the past.
“This last Friday we had live-action Pac Man tag, which is exactly what it sounds like — they pretend to be characters from the videogame Pac Man and they chase each other throughout the library after hours. Which is a lot of fun to be in a space that usually you need to be very quiet, and they get to really be themselves,” said Rachel Nash, director of the Soldotna Library.
The library celebrates five years since its building expansion with a party from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday in the community room. The original facility, built in the early 1970s, was a constrained, and, yes, pretty quiet place. The expanding role of community libraries got too big for the cramped space.
“I think the new philosophy of libraries is really as a community hub, and there’s the concept of the third space — that people need a place that isn’t work, that isn’t home where they can go, they can talk about ideas, they can learn, they can grow, and that’s really what libraries have become,” Nash said. “Particularly in our smaller communities, we really need that connection, that community connection.”
Nash worked in the old library building when she was a college student.
“We just didn’t have enough space. We had so many people coming in to the library — so many families, so many community members and visitors — and there just wasn’t enough space for everybody,” she said.
She became library director in 2013 when the expansion was completed. The $6.7 million project added 9,800 square feet to the building and opened new horizons for programming.
The library still has books, research materials and computers, of course — more than they used to in the old space. But there’s now room for entertainment and socialization, as well as education.
Kids have science programs, arts and crafts, learning games and some stuff just for fun, plus three story times a week. Nash’s oldest son was in the first group of a new Bouncing Babies story time added after the expansion.
“This year we got to see those kids that started out as babies go into kindergarten, and that was really special because we got to see them progress form bouncing babies to toddler story time to preschool story time and then graduate into kindergarten and start really developing those literacy skills,” Nash said.
Activates and resources for teenagers were nearly nonexistent in the old space.
“Previously, there was no room for the teens, they didn’t really have their own section or their own space. We now a vast young adult section, we have manga we have graphic novels, they do have their own space to come and study after school or just hang out,” Nash said.
Some of the new programs come from community suggestions, some from seeing what other libraries are doing and some from following trends — there’s a Harry Potter-themed Escape the Room program next week, just so you know. And they seem to be working. Nash says library utilization has grown since the expansion.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of visitors, it’s actually been a 151 percent increase (from 2011 to 2018),” Nash said. “We also see a huge increase in the number of items that are borrowed, so 48 percent increase in that. And everything, everything’s increased. We’re talking about computer use, that’s also up. Our meeting spaces are very popular, not only for library use but also individuals, groups, people that want to have events, everything from an actual board meeting to maybe a birthday party. Everyone can use the library.”
The Soldotna library was awarded three stars in the nationwide 2018 Library Journal index, which recognizes libraries for their overall circulation, circulation of electronic materials, library visits, program attendance and public internet computer use. Nash says the success is due to the great team at the library.
The expansion anniversary celebration is from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday in the community room, with cake and punch, on the stain-resistant carpet. For more information on upcoming activities, visit Soldotna.org/library.