Summit Counties libraries remain a gathering space for community
When the Summit County Council was discussing the 2018 budget and a property tax hike at a meeting back in December, the focus of one of the discussions quickly turned to the services the county supports.
Some members of the public questioned whether the county should continue allocating resources for services such as the library system, especially in a mostly digital age. The public asked Council members whether the property tax increase would still be necessary if those funds were to be cut.
Dan Compton, director of the Summit County Library, was sitting in the audience when the comments were made.
“It makes me feel like we failed that person, and that makes me sad because we do try to serve everyone in the community no matter where they are and what their needs may be,” Compton said in a recent interview. “If someone is able to purchase all their books and has internet at home, they may not have a need for a library. But, we are much more than a warehouse for books and a place where you can connect to the internet.”
The Kimball Junction branch of the Summit County Library was swarming with patrons on a recent weekday afternoon. Children were running around the kid’s section, while several adults occupied work spaces and tables strategically tucked away from the energy of youngsters.
The Summit County Library, which has branches in Coalville and Kamas, offers several items for check out, including books, magazines, movies and tablets. Other items are also available.
Some of the patrons were browsing the book stacks or movies, and others were working on private computers while wearing headphones. Drew Horton, a Park City resident, was one of them, busy on his laptop at one of the tables in the back of the library.
Horton said he visits the library about five times a month, especially with his two younger children.
“There are a lot of things that are available online, but there are still things that you get in hard copy, and libraries allow you to access those without having to buy them yourselves, children’s books being one of them,” he said.
Henry Dicus, who splits his time between Summit Park and Florida, said he brings his grandchildren to the library a couple of times a week. He said they often check out education videos or browse the children’s section while he reads magazines or accesses the internet.
“I’m old fashioned,” he said. “I use my phone for phone calls because I hate browsing on my phone. It doesn’t fit my big fat fingers, and I can never hit the right page. Plus, there is nothing like picking up a print magazine and flipping the pages.”
Shami Mlupi, a 9-year-old Park City resident, said libraries are “really useful,” especially for people his age. He said it’s better to read hard-copies of books instead of online.
“You can find books and comics,” he said. “I like libraries because it gives you a quiet place to think and study and play games.”
Libraries are transforming into places where people can gather together and share a workspace, Compton said.
“It’s the third space,” he said. “It’s not your home, work or school, but where you can go to make connections and feel like you are a part of the community, and we feel we can serve that role. It’s not always quiet. There is noise. But, traditional users who want to come in and discover a new book that will always be there for you.”
He added, “But, it can be difficult with this day and age because people have a digital community with things like Facebook and other social media.”
Programs, films and educational classes
Part of the challenge of staying relevant, Compton said, is bringing in programming and resources to attract people to the libraries. Libraries have been known as educational institutions, he said, offering many classes.
Some of the services the Summit County Library offers includes reading groups for parents and young children, movie screenings, a teen advisory council and General Equivalency Diploma classes for Spanish speakers.
Courtni Swisher had an armful of books and was heading toward the check-out desk while keeping an eye on her 7- and 2-year-old daughters. She said her family visits the library about three days a week.
“We come a lot,” she said. “We do all of the kid activities: baby rhyme time, toddler time, free movies and Legos on Friday. My oldest comes in and does the R.E.A.D program where kids read to a dog. We check stuff out every time and we use the library because it’s fun and it’s a great place for them. They like coming in and it’s important to them.”
Are libraries still relevant?
Compton said it breaks his heart whenever he hears a comment like the one that was made during the recent County Council meeting and makes him wonder, “How can we reach that person?”
One of the ways libraries maintain appeal is by providing new services and technology. The Kamas Branch of the Summit County Library, which will be located in the new County Service’s building in Kamas, will include several new features. The space is scheduled to open to the public toward the end of the month.
Compton said the new space will offer a 3-D printer and coding club, among other services.
“We will have public computers to come use, but we also wanted to go above and beyond,” Compton said. “We are going to have a desktop publishing station, photo and video editing, and we will offer some digitization programs.”
Compton said libraries have transformed significantly over the last five years. He added, “Libraries will do what they have to do to be relevant and survive.”
“But, it’s challenging as budgets remain flat and get cut,” he said. “Your community wants you to do more, and it becomes challenging to provide extra programming. But, libraries are one of those institutions where you can be served your entire life. As long as people want to have a connection with their community, they will be relevant. I feel like libraries transform lives.”
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