By Emily Williams
Libraries aren’t just for books anymore, at least that’s what folks at the Homewood Public Library think.
This year marks the library’s 75th anniversary and Executive Director Deborah Fout and her staff are celebrating their ability to keep community members filing through the doors every day.
The library holds a four-star rating from the Library Journal Index of Public Library Service, meaning it is in the top 20 libraries in the nation that share a similar budget range.
Fout said she owes that achievement to the team that surrounds her. With technology becoming ever-present and the library’s 24-7 online library access, programming has become more important as a way to get the community involved with the library.
Some of their most popular programs are their iTween gatherings, in which teens can gather to learn more about the things that interest them. Topics can range from henna tattooing to STEM projects.
For the adults, it’s all about the teas.
“Our biggest success is the ‘Downton Abbey’ tea and trivia,” said adult programming librarian Leslie West. “I don’t know what we’re going to do now that the series is ending. We had a Jane Austen tea and that had a great turnout. Tea has to be involved. People just love bringing out their teacups.”
According to the staff members, having to binge watch a season of “Downton Abbey” to come up with questions is the best kind of work.
“That’s why I think programs have gotten so big, because that is really the way you get people in the door,” Fout said. “You have to provide programs for the community and provide services that they can’t get for free elsewhere.”
The online calendar is consistently filled with a variety of options for every age group and range and includes fun events and serious courses. Some of the most popular classes are the library’s technology courses that are geared toward teaching the older generation how to use new technology such as iPads and Kindles.
“Someone comes in from AARP and does taxes for free and that course stays booked from the minute it opens,” Fout said. “Our security guard knows. He takes down the names for the waitlist.”
When the staff runs dry on ideas, guests of the library have been known to bring their programming ideas to the librarians. Teen programming librarian Judith Wright said that one of her more successful programs, Girls Who Code, was the idea of one of her Teen Advisory Board members.
“We do have programs that we try that don’t work sometimes,” Fout said. “When they don’t we just move on and try something different.” According to her staff, Fout is never one to say no to a programming idea; she may have a better suggestion, but all-in-all Homewood Library is a “yes library.”
All of these ingredients mix to create a library that is no longer a place to sit in silence and research, but a cultural center of the community.
“One Saturday, we had Miss Mandy’s Musical Meetup, which is a story time based on music,” said Children’s Programming Director Laura Tucker. “We had a violinist come in and teach the children how to play violin. She had a woman show up that thought it was a jam session and brought her banjo. As it turns out, the woman just moved here from Nicaragua and had never been in here before. Now she’s going to play in a future Miss Mandy’s.”
Fout said that these kinds of stories can be found every week.
“Working here isn’t so much a job as it is a lifestyle because we’re open 67 hours a week,” Fout said. “I’ll get off of work and just be sitting down in my chair and I’ll get a text from one of (my staff members) that says, ‘There are 400 people here for the event.’ I get it all the time, but I love to hear how many people are showing up.”
The library has planned a 75th birthday party March 24 in the large auditorium and the staff is expecting a large turnout from the community.
“It’s for all ages and we’re hoping to have huge crowds,” Fout said. “We’re doing programming all year that has to do with our 75th anniversary, but this is going to be strictly a birthday party.”
From 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., staff and guests will gather for cake, ice cream, balloons and traditional birthday party fare. For more information, visit www.homewoodpubliclibrary.org.