Today we visited Eugene Public Library in Eugene, Oregon. We have always been big fans of Eugene and planned to spend a couple of rest days in town, visiting with our nephew and niece, Jason and Kaverii. The library is centrally located in downtown Eugene in a four-story building built in 2002. There is a beautiful courtyard outside the children’s library and an abundance of bicycle parking.
In May, Alec Chunn, Youth Services Librarian, contacted John and me and invited us to visit the library when we arrived in Eugene. We are sorry to have missed the chance to meet Alec (seems he is moving into his new house!) but we were welcomed by many of the other library staff members. We had a fabulous visit including a tour by Miriam and Lynda, plus a lunch attended by seven library staff members. During the tours, we had the opportunity to meet many of the people that work in the library, including behind-the-scenes visits to technical services (my people) and circulation.
In touring Children’s Services with Miriam, we were struck by many things. Top of my list is their Language Center, offering support to households that speak a language other than English and to several language immersion schools for French, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese. In signing up for the summer reading program, children can select and take home a book to keep! We were entertained by the library displays created by children on different library-related topics.
Miriam also showed us the Maker Hub, a great example of public libraries providing access to technologies and creative spaces. Resources include a 3D printer, button makers, sewing machine, electronics kits, and an embroidery machine. Next door to the Maker Hub is the Media Lab, a place for recording and editing sounds and images. Upcoming workshops in August are available for recording/editing music and an introduction to virtual reality.
As we’ve traveled through the United States, we’ve had the opportunity to discuss different topics with library staff. One interesting discussion we had over lunch today was about balancing the services for community residents with services provided to non-residents. At the Eugene Public Library, to use the computers, one must have a library card, pay three dollars an hour, or limit use to 15 minutes at one of open-access terminals. In our travels, this is the most restrictive policy thus far. In talking with library staff, they felt that there was such a high demand for the computers, that allowing anyone free access may have a detrimental effect on assuring access for the community members.
We also discussed the challenges faced by a centrally located public library in a mid-size city with a homeless population over 3,000 people. Strong universal support was voiced in keeping the library available and welcoming to all. And one way to do this is to contract with a security company to be aware of activity outside the library, so librarians can focus their attention on what’s going on inside the building. Another amazing service offered at the library is a storage unity near the library where people can securely leave their belongings while using the library. Several people remarked on the library’s role in helping with social services, most notably partnering with White Bird Clinic to provide information about housing, food, showers, and other services.
We were very touched by the hospitality of the Eugene Public Library and for Alec reaching out to us. We are grateful for the conversations at lunch--speaking on topics that add to our overall picture of public libraries, their resources, and the challenges they may face. Thanks to you all for your time, especially Alec, Miriam, and Lynda.