What’s the issue: The Mid-Continent Public Library system has expanded services and its collection of material, and more changes are coming.
How does it affect me: The library has services well beyond checking out books, from school-readiness programs, help starting a business, publishing books and extensive resources in genealogy.
The Mid-Continent Public Library, with last year’s voter approval of a higher levy, has pressed ahead with expanded services and plans to upgrade virtually all of its 32 locations.
Library officials have spent a good chunk of 2017 having public meetings at 29 locations across Jackson, Clay and Platte counties, “because during the election, we promised: We’re going to come back and talk to you,” said Steve Potter, the system’s director and CEO.
Among other things, people told Mid-Continent they want added hours of service, including Sundays, and that’s coming.
“There will be Sundays at many locations,” Potter said.
Last November, voters raised the library’s property tax by eight cents per $100 of assessed valuation, to 40 cents, the first increase since 1983. The centerpiece of the campaign was $86 million in library improvements.
Potter stressed that although much of the conversation has been about buildings, there is a bigger picture that he describes as “access, buildings, collections and service.”
A mobile app is coming this fall, a new website is in the works, and added hours of service are set for January.
Also, the system’s collections budget is up 10 percent for this year. The library, for instance, has bought the online Kansas City Star from the newspaper’s founding in 1880 through today. Potter says that’s a major step in an important part of its mission – preserving and telling local stories.
Some of the steps might seem more modest, such as an expansion of library-by-mail, but Potter says that’s a valuable program for those who are homebound. This year it’s been expanded to more than 450 people.
Mid-Continent also stresses programs such as “Read Local.”
“It’s our local authors collection,” said Emily Brown, the library system’s public relations coordinator.
Also coming up this fall is the Kansas City area’s Big Read – this year’s book is “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien, about soldiers in Vietnam – and Mid-Continent is taking part with discussion groups and other events.
The overall point, as Potter has made consistently for several years, is that libraries have long since stopped being merely warehouses of books. There’s a wider variety of materials and far more programming.
“Now the library is something completely different,” he said.
Next month, the library is set to make final plans for facilities that a year ago were sketched out over the next decade. Officials now are looking at the idea of compressing that timeline and, with economies of scale and staying ahead of inflation, saving $5 million to $6 million.
Most buildings would get inside improvements, and the aim also is to make things more inviting, with more space outside to read and hang out.
“All of our buildings, we’re looking to upgrade the outdoor experience,” Potter said.
Among the upcoming changes:
• The Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence is getting an auditorium, and officials are aiming at 2019. That makes the facility more usable for a major genealogy conference coming to Kansas City in 2020. The auditorium will be constructed in such a way that it can be sealed off from the rest of the library and opened by itself for community events.
Also: The library’s Sunday hours are being expanded in January 2018. That’s more accommodating for the people who come from out of town to do their research. “They make a weekend out of it,” Potter said.
• More public space and study rooms at the two Blue Springs branches.
• A permanent site for the Grain Valley branch, but Potter said the library is still waiting on the city to set its plans for development at the Sni-A-Bar Ranch area.
• The addition of an East Independence branch in the Little Blue River Valley, likely to come at the end of the upcoming building cycle.
• The Colbern Road branch in north Lee’s Summit is to be significantly renovated and expanded to become a destination branch, along the same lines as North Independence. It will house Mid-Continent’s business services program. That renovation will require closing the branch for some time, and since Lee’s Summit accounts for such a large amount of circulation, that work might wait until a new branch in east Lee’s Summit is built.