In advance of National Library Week, Fontana Regional Library conducted a survey of library users and non-users, asking them to name their top priorities for the community’s future. Library staff surveyed 1,001 people in Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties and learned that there are 5 important areas on people’s minds: education, employment and the economy, health and mental health, diversity, and connectivity.
Education is lifelong, whether it’s a traditional school environment, online learning, attending a workshop, or reading a magazine article to learn something new. The library works with local schools and homeschoolers to support teachers, students, and parents. Many students take classes online and need the computers and Internet connections available at the library. But you don’t have to be a student to find something new at the library. If you want to learn about what it’s like to hike the Appalachian Trail or how to stream music or use your iPhone, the library is the place to go to get the help you need to explore a new skill or interest.
Jobs and the economic health of a community are always important to the people who live and work there, and libraries play a role in building those connections. Throughout the country, 30 million people each year use library computers and Internet access for employment and career purposes. Your local public library has computers and Internet access to help with your resume writing or job search, as well as knowledgeable staff to assist you in the process. If you’re thinking about starting your own business, the library can help with that, too.
Everyone is concerned about health, either their own or that of their loved ones. Every year, 28 million people use libraries to research health and wellness issues, including medical conditions, medical procedures, diet or nutrition, finding health care providers, and assessing health insurance options. Locally, the library is a place to connect with a healthcare navigator to learn about the Affordable Care Act or the Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP). Mental health groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) use the library for community classes and information meetings. In order to share your good health with others, you can even give blood at some local libraries.
Our communities are growing and changing. Libraries provide public spaces where everyone is welcome and where we can all learn about each other. With longtime residents joined by visitors, students and other newcomers eager to learn about mountain traditions and share their own, our local communities are growing and flourishing. Our libraries offer people opportunities to meet and socialize with others, whether attending a meeting, a social event, or a program featuring art, music, literature, or another cultural topic.
Affordable broadband connectivity is important for our rural communities. In some areas, the geography makes Internet access a challenge, or even an impossibility. In addition, many people cannot pay the cost of high-speed Internet access. Local libraries bridge these gaps, providing free access to the Internet and staff members trained to troubleshoot the most common connection problems. Whether a person needs to download an article for a school research project, visit Facebook to catch up with friends or family, or fill out an online job application, Library internet access allows people to link to the resources they need. Staff are always on hand to assist as necessary.
In addition to gauging community priorities, the local library survey asked why - or why not - people use the library. Of the 1,001 people who took the survey, 68% said they visit their library regularly. That percentage is far higher than the national average of only 46% of all Americans who report they’ve visited a library within the past year.
When people visit the library, they say they enjoy checking out books, magazines, and DVDs. They take advantage of the variety of programs, events, classes, and workshops, and they use computers, tablets, and wi-fi. Library users bring family and friends, and they enjoy using the various spaces at the library, including study rooms, meeting rooms, and reading areas.
For people who do not currently use the library, the reasons are varied: Some people said they feel they can get all the information they need from the Internet; some simply buy their own books, magazine subscriptions, music and movies; and some are just too busy to include a trip to the library in their hectic schedules.
“These responses from the people who do not use our services are nevertheless very important to us,” says Fontana Regional Library Director Karen Wallace. “They show us that we must continue to get the word out about what the library offers, including not only materials and programs but also staff expertise. For example, the library offers staff research assistance and basic technology training, as well as free access to subscription databases, which provide authoritative information that is otherwise only available for a fee. And for those too busy to come into the library, we offer e-Books, e-Magazines, e-Audiobooks, and even streamable video to our patrons. That’s right, many of our most dedicated users haven’t entered a library building in years!”
Fontana Regional Library and its locations in Sylva, Cashiers, Highlands, Franklin, Nantahala, and the Reading Rover bookmobile are currently celebrating National Library Week and invite the public to come explore the world of today’s libraries. For more information about how a library can assist you, please call your local library.