It’s definitely not your Grandmother’s Library. Since 1917, Loup City has been graced with a Library in one form or another. Residents will remember, the Library was located in the Carnegie Building until 1997, when the county decided to combine it with the Loup City High School Library. In that year Jerome Lobner (the school Librarian) and Lillian Kaslon (then Sherman County Librarian) worked together to merge the two facilities in the High School. The reasons for combining the two were obvious: a single location with a greater selection of books, better resources for students, and the economies of a single staff without replicated functions or resources. These advantages made the decision a win for all of Loup City and Sherman County residents. Our town library has continued to evolve according to Audrey Heil, and will continue with innovative and aggressive approaches to literacy, even during the pandemic.
The current iteration of the Library includes Ms. Heil the County Librarian, School Librarian Holly Myers, and assistants Diane Thompson and Caroline Chilewski. The Library is physically open Tuesday and Thursday: 9-1 and 2-6, Wednesday: 2-8, Friday: 2-6, and Saturday from 2-5, though it must be stated that the reality of our Library is much more than a building full of books with a schedule on the door.
Under Audrey’s leadership, the library has become a center for much more than reading. The Innovation Studio’s Makerspace program that she arranged two years ago is a perfect example. The State-sponsored program brought a plethora of creative tools to Loup City, and Audrey arranged for a strong local contingent of trainers. For two months, kids and residents could create buttons, three dimensional objects and gadgets, make films or sound productions, program complex Lego-bots, print T-shirts and acrylic stencils or labels, and etch wood, glass, and ceramics with print or images. Today, as a result of a great collaboration with the School, the Library hosts a laser engraver (also known as the Universal Laser System), free to the public, with tutors and guidance; only requiring a phone call to coordinate a time. The learning doesn’t stop there.
The Library will loan cake pans with unique shapes like Pocahontas, Teddy Bears, Numbers, and much more. For fans of Audio-books, there is a large selection, downloadable to readers like Kindle, IPAD, or available on CD. Programatically, our Library is a whirlwind. This summer, despite the COVID issues, school age kids including preschoolers, read almost two thousand books. Twice a day on Mondays, the Library sponsors reading out loud at the CNCAP Pre-school. This program has backed down to Library staff due to “slowing the spread” guidance. During all previous summers, our Library tied in to Nebraska ESU (Educational Service Unit) to provide a major program: last year it was astronomy, curious kids or adults could enter an inflatable tent that showed the constellations on it’s ceiling! During the year, the Library hosts such diverse events as a Celtic Guitar and Storyteller, productions by Crane River Theater, and other events; primarily for students (and tuned to their grades), but also open to other residents. Mrs. Meyers teaches our young to conduct safe searches on the internet, how to use the catalog, how to find books or other items, and of course that perennial favorite: the Dewey Decimal system. And did I mention reading?
Traditional libraries were limited to the books on the shelves, but Loup City is right at the front of the technological revolution. A person can actually search for books from the Library’s web site by clicking on the search button and getting ( https://lcpl-ind.kari.opalsinfo.net/bin/home ). If one doesn’t find what one is looking for, a quick call to the Library will allow a search of the Interlibrary Loan System through the Nebraska Library Commission for that elusive book. We’re fortunate to have such a great Library staff and a supportive Library Board; most summers they run a reading program with Chamber Bucks, gifts and prizes like Root Beer floats for achieving reading goals. Lately, Audrey has even been doing deliveries and pickups to locations in town (other than Rose Lane and West Side which she had been doing for years); perfect for those who are concerned about the virus.
How else has the pandemic affected our Library? There was some initial staff and scheduling turbulence before information about the transmissibility and severity came out. Now, the schedule listed above is solid. Regrettably, some of the larger group events are on temporary hold. One such loss was the “Share the Love” program in which Senior Citizens read age-appropriate books to students on a monthly basis. This intergenerational bonding program promoted literacy and reinforced the ties and respect between generations. Other programs have been adjusted; the monthly Book Club meeting, sourced by the Nebraska Library Commission, is now held outdoors. With respect to the Library as a source of transmission, don’t worry! The staff goes through a “de-Covidizing” process with all loaned materials. On receipt back in the Library, all books, tapes, CDs, and other items are deep cleaned, and then quarantined for seven days. Of course, all staff are wearing masks (the interview from which this information came was conducted masked), and the school controls access and mandates distancing in the facility. Ms. Heil is optimistic, and looks forward to getting back to an aggressive program schedule. She would also like to increase the Library’s presence in the community.
She believes in working with the Chamber of Commerce as a means of expanding both the reach and the quality of Library/community interaction. Things like including pamphlets in visitor/new residents bags (distributed by the Chamber), increasing Library membership, continued projects like the Innovation Studios (Maker Space), and soon, a presence on Instagram. She would like to re-engage students in Book related Podcasts where they can recommend books to their peers and others, and plans to post these on the Library’s Facebook page. This broad engaging approach recognizes the changing ways people (especially young people) are learning and communicating now.
Of course, we had to ask about late fees and fines. While some Libraries have gone to Corporal punishment, Imprisonment, Branding, or possible Capital punishment for late returns, Loup City has gone another way. Late returns do not result in a fine, although all patrons are encouraged to be prompt in their turn-ins. According to Audrey, fines are actually counterproductive in that kids don’t want to go to their parents to get the money (so just don’t tell them about the late fee and hang on to the book), and no adult wants to go in and get charged for a book from a free Lending Library. Of course, all of us should be prompt in our returns, and there is a cost to either losing (not turning in) materials, or damage. The Library will charge up to the value of the item if lost or damaged. Still, no fees, and not getting jailtime or being pilloried in the town square for forgetfulness is a pretty good deal.
The Loup City Library is included in the Chamber “Business of the Month” series for good reason. Though not a business, the Library is a fabulous asset to a community, especially when blessed with an energetic and aggressive staff like the one in Loup City. Reading is an essential part of learning and after all, if we’re not learning, we’re dying.