Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lost in a book and so much more

Published in L Magazine, November 2008
Copyright 2008 by L Magazine, used with permission
This is my original, unedited version.

When Pat Leach first began working at Lincoln City Libraries in 1979, things were a lot different. Patrons checked out materials by writing their names on a card. Lincolnites looked at the library primarily as a place to check out books.

Now technology has streamlined the checkout process and vastly increased the libraries’ services. And patrons look to the libraries for much more than just checking out books. As Leach begins as library director, she wants Lincolnites to realize everything the city’s libraries have to offer.

“Technology is not just making us do our work better, it’s giving opportunities for people to share information and be part of the whole process,” she explained. “For instance, customers can put book reviews into our on-line catalog.”

This past year the total circulation of Lincoln City Libraries was just over three million, but much of that included materials other than books. Library staff, which number over 120 at the eight branch libraries, are paying attention to what people are asking for, and selections are based on those requests. Some of the newer offerings include current movies and TV programs, downloadable audiobooks, and on-line electronic databases on practical subjects like genealogy, health, car repair and test preparation.

“Our website is well worth looking at, even if a person chooses not to come into our library building,” Leach said. “We kind of think of it as a small branch library.”

Many people aren’t aware of the services libraries offer, she said. For instance, you can have an item sent to any branch for no extra charge, and you may return library materials to any branch. There is no longer a charge for placing items on hold. Interlibrary loan, another free service, allows you to check out books from other libraries if something is not available in Lincoln City Libraries. Outreach programs mail library materials to shut-ins and take the bookmobile to smaller towns in Lancaster County. Other “best kept secrets” are the Polley Music Library and the Heritage Room for Nebraska Authors, two specialized libraries located within Bennett Martin.

Lincoln’s library system compares favorably with that of other similar cities. The 2008 Hennen’s American Public Library Rating Index, which ranks public libraries according to circulation, staffing, materials, reference service and funding levels, ranked Lincoln City Libraries sixth in its population category. “There’s always room to grow, but I think overall our library system is pretty strong, both in terms of our facilities and the kinds of materials that we offer,” Leach said.
Pat Leach took the position of library director on September 22, replacing Carol Connor, who retired after 30 years of service. Connor’s example, coupled with her own varied positions of service with the library system, have given Leach confidence in taking on this new challenge.
Growing up in Aurora, Nebraska, Leach spent a lot of time at the town’s library and got to know the librarians well. Her mother served on the local library board. Influential teachers furthered her love of reading. She began working part time at Lincoln City Libraries while attending the University of Nebraska and has worked in technical processing, the reference department and as director of the South Branch Library.

Most recently, Leach worked for 13 years as director of Youth Services, purchasing materials and planning children’s programs for all Lincoln libraries and collaborating with other organizations, such as the Lincoln Children’s Museum and Lincoln Public Schools, to provide services for children and youth. While in that position, two new branches opened, Eiseley and Walt, both well-known for their inviting children’s sections. She started the Kindergarten Kickoff program, a celebration of the start of school, which this year drew over 4000 participants. In collaboration with the Nebraska Humanities Council, she helped initiate Prime Time, a national program of storytelling and discussion, which encourages at risk families to read aloud at home and talk about books in a meaningful way.

Programs such as these demonstrate another recent change in libraries, in that people are looking at libraries as a community space, a place to come and spend time. Leach is looking at ways to increase that involvement, such as providing developmental toys for children to play with while at the library and encouraging parents who come for story time to interact with each other. “It’s sort of the community’s living room, where people are welcome to just spend time and meet each other in an atmosphere of books and learning,” she said.

Leach would like Lincolnites to take ownership of their libraries. Her goal is not just that people use the libraries, but that they consider their branch library their own, think of it as “their place.”

Libraries exist because of democracies, because we live in a country where we believe that all people should have access to information, Leach said. “A lot of people buy their own books, and the truth is, we’ve probably bought that book for you already and you could use it. We have things that address all interests.”

For more information on Lincoln City Libraries, see their website:

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