“People predicted the death of libraries once there were computers, but we just feel like we’re busier and busier all the time,” says Baldwin Public Library Director Rebecca Dixen. In an increasingly digital world, resources like libraries and print media are often thought of as “dying animals”. However, those who tend to view libraries as an expiring service are often unaware of their potential and either haven’t visited in a long time or are too young to know their value.
“People that haven’t been in the library for a long time don’t know what we have to offer,” says Dixen, “we have free downloadable products, we have job searching databases, we loan out PowerPoint projectors, blood pressure monitors and mobile WiFi hotspots. Some people haven’t been in since they were a kid and think ‘I don’t need books; I can get books somewhere else’ but there’s a lot more going on here.”
The services available at public libraries are often more than people realize, and those like Dixen want residents to know about them. The Baldwin Public Library has always offered faxing, scanning to email, color copying for as little as one-dollar and is introducing new services regularly like transferring VHS tape to DVD’s for a very low price. Aside from the products and services, just using the library space is something that people should take advantage of.
“As society gets more screen oriented, community centers where people can gather and feel more part of their community become more and more important,” says Dixen, “people come in to just read our magazines and newspapers, do puzzles, tutors use our study rooms all the time – there’s just a lot that you can do here. Where else can you go to meet people or just hang out in town without spending money?”
In fact, Dixen adds that the library has outgrown its current space and could use more rooms for quiet study, a youth area, and offering programs. A recent study based on WI State Standards and using demographic changes found that the Baldwin Library should have more like 15,000 square feet, rather than the 5,300 it has now. The library hopes to expand in the near future.
Despite misconceptions that people are visiting the library at a lesser rate, the Baldwin Public Library had 56,083 visits in 2018 alone with a total of 58,989 checkouts, a number that has increased to 59,238 since the decision was made to get rid of checkout fines for late materials. While this may seem like a decision that would allow for more late or missing materials, Baldwin Public Library has seen the opposite effect.
“Libraries are always trying to increase access. We want everyone to use us,” says Dixen, “but there are certain barriers to our use that we’re always examining – one of those is fines. People have always had the idea that if we didn’t have fines, people wouldn’t bring back our stuff, but the sad thing we realized was that if you had a fine of ten dollars or more our system would block you from using the library and this most often penalizes children. Kids are the ones that need to use the library most. It’s so important to develop those early reading skills.”
In order to address the issue, the Baldwin Public Library did away with fines as of April 2018 with only positives to show for it. “After we read some national research that shows fines are not an incentive to bring checked out materials back, we decided to go fines free,” says Dixen, “what does incentivize them is replacement costs.” After the decision last spring, the Baldwin Public Library saw an increase in circulation rates and found that people are using the library more, especially those that need them most.
The myth of a total tech takeover is something that The Baldwin Public Library and others are set out to disprove. Dixen is seeing first hand that communities still desire something tangible that only libraries can offer. “We want to serve the people,” Dixen says, “that’s why we’re here.”