• Library looking way beyond books

  • Library director outlines services

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  • Nearly 25 years ago, Steve Potter started in his first position at Mid-Continent Public Library as typist, making those little cards that went into drawers.
    Today, card catalogs are basically extinct, and as Potter, now the director of libraries for MCPL, detailed at Wednesday’s monthly Independence Chamber of Commerce luncheon, libraries of today and the future must continue to provide relevance, service and value for patrons.
    Despite technological advancements, people still need and use libraries, Potter said, but you don’t need a great deal of space for a great library any longer. For example, he said, Mid-Continent recently received a small box filled with the digital archives of The Times, from London, from 1785 to 2006.
    “You have to rethink how you use space in libraries, and that’s been a big challenge for us,” said Potter, who also serves on the chamber’s board of directors. “For us, our buildings have been a great investment for us ... but the main thing for us is that it’s not going to be about rows and rows of shelves anymore – it’s going to be about a place for collaboration, community and consideration.
    “It’s going to be a place where people can gather and they can discuss. They can actually form community. ... Instead of inviting everybody over to your house to plan the next PTA meeting – because your house is a mess – you can meet at the library to do this.”
    Another significant change that libraries today encounter is the popularity of e-book, mostly among women ages 40 and older, Potter said. In the last 12 months, Mid-Continent handled 200,000 e-book checkouts, which is equivalent to the amount of books handled yearly at the Blue Springs North Branch.
    Contrary to what some believe, Potter said, Mid-Continent doesn’t offer just classic titles for checkout through an e-book reader. New, popular titles like the entire Harry Potter series and “The Help” are available, but the biggest challenge is that lots of e-book publishers won’t sell their products to libraries, Potter said.
    “That’s where we tend to find the gap,” he said. “So, if you ever feel like doing a little bit of advocacy on our behalf, write those publishers and tell them to sell to your libraries.”
    On the business side of libraries, Potter said local professionals can use Mid-Continent’s resources to create a list of potential sales leads with addresses, annual sales and phone numbers, and then export that information into a spreadsheet, as well as search for available job openings in Independence and apply for them all in one website.
    Both are completed through databases available at Mid-Continent, free of charge, if residents have a library card.
    Despite not asking for a tax increase since 1983, Mid-Continent costs the average resident about $40 a year in taxes, and for every $1 in taxes, Mid-Continent returns about $5 worth of services, Potter said. 
    Page 2 of 2 - This week, Mid-Continent announced its new mobile application that allows users to check out a book on their own at one of the branches, scan a book at a retail location to see if Mid-Continent has it, seek out live homework help through an instant message and more. Visit www.mymcpl.org/apps to learn more about the new feature.
    “It’s not really about books. Sad to say, it’s not about books,” Potter said of the opportunities awaiting at Mid-Continent locations. “It is all about access, though, and people are going to need access for years and years to come.”
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