Will Johnson County libraries of the future have more community gathering spaces? Will they have special collections, where patrons can check out such things as cake pans or art? Will they even have books?
Those are the questions that will be considered this month as the county library system kicks off a grand re-imagining of what its libraries should be. The public brainstorming sessions began Tuesday with city and county leaders and will continue through the end of the month with the public invited to 10 of the library’s branches.
About 40 leaders considered all kinds of library functions, from large event space to the introduction of special equipment like the 3D printer that is available for public use at Central Resource Library. But one of the biggest questions was whether libraries of the future will continue to have actual books, and if so, how many.
That question drew a variety of opinions.
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“Books are going, get ready for it,” said Shawnee Mission School Superintendent Jim Hinson. The libraries of the future will be digital, he said.
County Manager Hannes Zacharias was not so sure. “The computer has not replaced the desire for books. It has fed the desire for more books,” he said.
Some others said that it may be a question of how many books to keep on hand. Moderator Dave Schnee of Group 4 Architecture, Research and Planning, noted a Pew Research study that showed people still reading paper books, though e-readership is increasing.
In small group sessions the leaders also talked about innovative thinking in special collections. Some art reproductions are available for checkout from Johnson County library system, for instance. And one participant had heard of a library where patrons could “check out” an expert to consult on various subjects.
Mostly, though, the leaders talked about the value of the library to communities in promoting literacy and early childhood education and as a place to go for computer access for those who cannot afford the Internet.
County Commissioner Jim Allen said that of the more than 100 counties in America with over 500,000 residents, Johnson County has the highest proportion of college graduates, partly because of good libraries.
Statistics compiled by Group 4 supported the idea that the county libraries are well-used. Over 90,500 patrons checked out around 2.3 million books — an average of 25 books a year for each patron. Users also checked out around 236,000 compact discs, 1.1 million DVDs and 53,000 games, and the reference section answered more than 104,000 questions, according to the statistics.
Others at the meeting talked about the library as an equalizer and a supportive place for intellectual wandering.
“It is our space to share and train for the good of the community,” said Angel Mercier, of the Johnson County Community College Performing Artist Series arts education program. “It’s a warm and a neutral place.”
“Is the world going to get larger or smaller?” said County Librarian Sean Casserley. “Technology tells us it’s going to get smaller,” he said. The library will be important as a place to find other points of view, he said.
“It is important to understand another person’s point of view on this planet,” Casserley said. “That happens with intellectual freedom.”
The brainstorming sessions this month will be developed into preliminary recommendations that will be presented in April, Schnee said. After that, there will be meetings to get community input on those recommendations, ending with a master plan that will be fine tuned by the library board of trustees and the Johnson County Commission. The master plan will be the blueprint for future library improvements.
The schedule for public sessions at the branches:
Central Resource Library: 6-7:30 p.m. Monday
Antioch, Blue Valley and Shawnee: all 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Leawood and Oak Park: both 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday
Cedar-Roe, Corinth, Gardner/Edgerton: all 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 21. The Gardner/Edgerton session will be at the Gardner location.
The public can also weigh in on line at: jocolibraryconversation.com