Area’s three award-winning libraries offer information in myriad ways

04/25/2014 4:54 PM

04/25/2014 4:54 PM

Steve Potter doesn’t have any time to listen to dire predictions that libraries are dying.

The director of the Mid-Continent Public Library is too busy making sure his system is a vibrant and valuable resource, serving more than 700,000 patrons in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties.

“If we can hook you up with the knowledge you need, we win,” he said, discussing one of the library’s main missions.

The best libraries are evolving far past the stereotypical hushed building full of books. They offer a flood of valuable material online. They hold events that attract wide-eyed grandchildren to storytelling hour as well as World War II veterans to recount their lives’ stories for other generations. They help small business leaders access the information they need to succeed.

And in the Kansas City area, as yet another national award affirmed last week, we enjoy the tremendous benefit of being home to some of America’s top-rated library systems.

The Mid-Continent Public Library on Thursday received the prestigious National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Up to five libraries a year can win the award, which institute officials bestow to “institutions that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities.”

Mid-Continent is following in the footsteps of Johnson County Library, which earned the honor in 2005, and Kansas City Public Library, which did so in 2008.

But if that string of success makes it appear this honor is easy to pick up, consider this: Only 70 or so U.S. libraries can boast of winning the National Medal over the last 20 years.

Potter praised his employees for coming up with great ways to provide needed services at the system’s branch libraries and its outstanding Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence.

Among them are programs that let veterans of all wars share their experiences and get social service help if they need it; “pink parties” for cancer survivors and others who want more information on the subject; and home-schooling services for children and parents.

The world of libraries is ever-changing, and that’s a big challenge. It takes a can-do effort — and setting aside lots of money for technology and material — to truly serve patrons.

“If someone says, ‘I need access to this information on my cellphone,’ I’ve got to find a way to do that,” Potter said, adding that even on snow days when branches are closed, patrons now check out a tremendous amount of material online.

The region’s two other award-winning libraries have not rested on their well-earned laurels.

Next month the Johnson County Library board will decide whether to approve a feasibility study on how to better serve the fast-growing county.

In addition, after unfortunate cutbacks in personnel and library hours in 2012, the system has made some progress in restoring staff positions and hours.

Eventually, the board and Johnson County commissioners may need to give residents a chance to provide even more financial support for one of the county’s crown jewels.

Kansas City Public Library continues to receive recognition for the amazing amount of high quality programming it offers. Earlier this month the system won the Excellence in Library Programming Award from the American Library Association.

Looking ahead, leaders of the Mid-Continent, Johnson County and Kansas City systems must continue to work on ways to collaborate and share resources. They know the drill by now: Libraries in this region are held to very high standards when it comes to serving their patrons.

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