Walk into the Newton Public Library today, and you’ll find it’s a very different place than it was 125 years ago when it was founded.
The shelves of books have been joined by other resources: computers, audiobooks, DVDs and other electronic items have been added to the library’s collection as times change and technology evolves.
According to library director Marianne Eichelberger, Newton’s library has weathered these changes and has learned to adapt to challenges, including a down economy.
“As things change, it takes time for people to figure out new business models,” she said.
Like many organizations, libraries across the country have been impacted by tough financial times. The library saw a slight cut in funding from the city of Newton in 2012 (down to $703,880 from $713,880 in 2011), and state funding cuts also have influenced the library.
As expenses go up, Eichelberger said the library has had to cut back on the purchase of new materials, and she is concerned about keeping the aging building functioning. Some of the problems highlighted in the library’s 2012 budget report include water infiltration through walls, windows and doors; deteriorating plumbing systems; poorly insulated walls and roof; and some areas with ADA non-compliance. Eichelberger’s dream of constructing a new library building is in discussion with the city commission.
Since finances are tight, Eichelberger said many libraries have searched for ways to work together on projects. This cooperation allows libraries to have access to programs and resources they might not be able to access on their own.
Libraries continue to be a popular place for community members to gather — last year, the library’s average attendance was about 3,000 people per week. The library also has almost 20,000 card holders.
The library was able to add a new full-time IT position last summer, and it continues to offer a variety of programs to the public, such as story time for children and programs for adults, Eichelberger said. The library even serves as a voter registration site.
Libraries and e-books
In addition to tight budgets, Eichelberger said another challenge being faced by libraries is the rise of the e-book and the impact it has had on the publishing industry.
However, she does not think the e-book will bring an end to the need for libraries. Libraries are working to offer resources such as e-books, and a demand for print materials continues.
She hopes publishers will work with libraries to make sure people are able to access both the electronic and print resources they need.
Staff also have learned to become “jacks-of-all-trades,” helping patrons with computer questions and online job applications, as well as helping them locate books.
“The staff have to be very well-rounded, and very knowledgeable in a lot of areas,” Eichelberger said. “... We try to learn, and we share that learning with everybody.”