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Visions of library reflect our past and our future

When I was a kid growing up in Shively, Ky., just south of Louisville, my mother used to drive me to the local library. I like to think, remembering those days, that she finally got her driver’s license expressly for that purpose, but I know better. Dad was a swing shift worker, and he could sleep while Mom dragged us kids on the weekly trip to the A&P. Nevertheless, Mom made sure I got to the Shively Library on a regular basis; I don’t think she ever checked anything out for herself. I remember this: it was a 1950s modernistic structure, a mosaic of glass and colored plastic panels, and through the windows you could see the stacks rising up to the third and fourth floors. I don’t think I ever made it up there. The Hardy Boys and their friends lived at ground level.

I’ll always be grateful to Mom for encouraging my love of reading. I’ve often wondered if she missed those trips to the Shively Library. I became a fickle patron after I got my wheels, a Huffy three-speed, and began to explore the world beyond my neighborhood. A school friend persuaded me and several other classmates to spend a Saturday morning at a library across the Shively town line and in an older neighborhood of Louisville proper. It was about a six-mile ride and mostly uphill. I don’t recall that library’s name, but it was old and stately, with wood paneling, high ceilings, and appropriately musty smells. Just being there made me feel smart. After the first visit, I went back often, never confiding to my parents that I spent considerable time listening to classical music there and reading U.S. News and World Report.

As sure as we are shaped by our experiences, our surroundings, and the opportunities that come our way, the libraries of my youth played an important part in my growth. I am grateful, and because of that I like to visit libraries when I travel. I have found that each one is special, with a soul of its own. I seldom stop to think that behind each one of these marvelous places there are people… and a history of dedication, foresight, hard work, and conviction. Libraries have staying power — I have never seen one with a “Going Out of Business” sign posted on the lawn.

But the digital/electronic age, according to some, is a game changer. This I believe to be true, but it does not spell the end of libraries for several reasons. First, many libraries, recognizing the sound of opportunity knocking, will harness the new digital age (and a paradigm shift in the publishing industry) to the benefit of their patrons. Second, many libraries are reinventing themselves. They are making the transition from printed media repository to information and communication portal. Through the Library of the Future project, residents of Peterborough and surrounding towns will have the opportunity to assure that the Peterborough Town Library will continue its long history of excellence.

What would you like to have or experience in a revitalized library? This is a question we have been asking area residents since February. The Library Outreach Group, a committee formed by the 1833 Society (www.1833society.org), submitted its report on June 1. Both the full report and a summary are available on the 1833 website. The full report is a distillation of input received from both the February Forum and outreach initiatives of the Library Outreach Group itself.

What did we hear? We learned that community members envision a library that is:

∎  Effective, efficient, safe, and effective

∎  A central information resource for the community

∎  Welcoming, diverse, engaging, and flexible

∎  Community-focused and community-driven

∎  A community center for life-long learning and collaboration

∎  Fully accessible by all

∎  User-friendly and user-focused

∎  Visually impressive

What is my personal vision for our library? I want a library that is as bustling and busy as the Santa Fe Public Library. I want a library with meeting and gathering spaces like the Portsmouth Public Library. I want a library with the comfy feel of the Hanover Public Library, and I want a library as energy efficient as the Franklin Library in Des Moines, Iowa. I want a library that is totally accessible by all, and I want a library with innovative and engaging programs for teens and young adults. I want a library that makes a strong architectural statement yet blends in with its surroundings. In short, I want a library I can be proud of — a library worthy of this community and its history.

In closing, I would like to say that my family and I have been well-served by the Peterborough Town Library. The staff has always been cordial and helpful, and I’m sure my son and daughter will remember it with the same high regard I hold for the library I remember back in Shively. My guess is that it’s a different sort of place now. Things change. Now is the time for us to plan for the future.

Ronnie McIntire is a member of the board of the 1833 Society and former chair of the Peterborough Town Library trustees.

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