GUEST COMMENTARY: Porter County library can serve better

2014-05-14T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Porter County library can serve betterBy Stu Summers nwitimes.com
May 14, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The Porter County Public Library System can help solve numerous new problems and challenges facing our community. Like many other American counties, it is time to rethink the public library system in our own community. In Porter County, the public library system is a resource than can be used creatively to help improve job skills, reduce unemployment and serve our citizens in new and meaningful ways.

A recent article in Public Management magazine says, “30 percent of American adults ages 18 and older don’t have access to broadband or wireless transmission in their homes. As businesses, medical providers and governments transition to online-only registration, bill paying and customer support, where do people turn? The free and welcoming library.”

The article quotes some statistics about American public libraries:

  • 97 percent of libraries help people apply for government services.
  • 92 percent of libraries help people access online job databases and resources.
  • 90 percent of libraries provide formal and informal technology training.
  • 76 percent of libraries help people apply for jobs online.
  • 62 percent of libraries report that they are the only free provider of public internet access.

We can improve the library system in Porter County in many ways. The good news is the county library already has the cash resources that can be programmed for better uses. A June 15, 2013, article in The Times said the Porter County Public Library System “has more than enough cash to build a new branch.” Big public library buildings are usually locked up more hours of the week than they are open. Before this $5 million-plus in cash is spent on more bricks and mortar, we should let go of our old concepts about public libraries, and engage in a community discussion and planning process to consider cost-effective alternatives that may better serve our modern needs.

Some alternatives could include:

  • Open some libraries on Sundays: Throughout America, Sundays are reported to be one of the most popular days for library patrons. Perhaps we can pay for it simply by reducing hours during less popular days.
  • Buy laptop computers and internet connections to use in creative partnerships with local social service agencies. The library system could help our homeless, unemployed, sick and troubled gain access to education, job training, health care and governmental services.
  • Explore library-school partnerships to expand learning technologies and computer hardware for our students and teachers. The Valparaiso and Portage redevelopment commissions have great success in partnering with local schools to train students for 21st century skills. Our county library system can seek similar innovative arrangements.
  • Seek out special buying arrangements with the private sector to give Porter County residents lower-cost access to e-books and other electronic knowledge.
  • Perhaps discuss using some of the library cash to pay off some of the almost $5 million in higher-interest library bonded debt.

Numerous public bodies appoint members to our Porter County Public Library Board of Trustees. These appointing authorities should seek out and appoint people who can help the board leverage its resources (and today’s technologies) to assist Porter County residents in meeting contemporary challenges.

Stu Summers has a master's degree in public administration. He is a Center Township resident and recently retired as executive director of the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission. The opinions are the writer's.

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