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Summer 2011

It's Time to GEEK Our Local Public Libraries

by Lynne Hewes

I've been laboring under some misconceptions:
(1) That the word GEEK is a noun, meaning someone weird, maybe even a nerd.
(2) That public libraries are in the business of checking out books.

Well, okay, maybe my misconceptions are not total, complete misconceptions. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that my knowledge just needs updating. And if that's true, then perhaps I'm not the only one out there whose knowledge could use an overhaul. Read on:

Let's start with the word GEEK. My computer's thesaurus tells me that GEEK is indeed a noun; it refers to someone who is socially awkward, and it's an insult.

New information, however, from a website called www.geekthelibrary.org, suggests that GEEK has lately also become a verb, a word which means "to feel passionate about," or "to be fascinated with" or "to love." Suggested phrases include "to geek football or hip hop" or "get your geek on" or "share what you geek." Advertising posters for this new part of speech include a picture of a young boy who starts out "geeking worms," and ends up "geeking" his future.

And that's what the Geek the Library campaign is all about: learning that, no matter what we're passionate about, we can find information about it or help with it at our public libraries. That information is free of charge, and that information will help us grow. Perhaps it will even change our lives.

The Geek the Library program intends to promote conversation about the role public libraries play in their communities.

The program encourages the public to talk about what they "geek," whether it's art, or superheroes, or agriculture, or sports. The idea is that everyone is passionate about something—everyone "geeks" something—and our public libraries support it all. The campaign Web site, www.geekthelibrary.org, provides information about how people can get active and support their local library.

That knowledge brings us to my second misconception: that public libraries are in the business of checking out books. Well, yes, that's true, but they do so much more than that.

A visit with Emily Sitz, director of the Southwest Kansas Library System, Sara McFarland, Southwest Kansas Library System library development coordinator, and Cathy Reeves, director of the Dodge City Public Library, updated my perception of what exactly goes on in public libraries. Essentially, these women taught me that "Whatever you geek, your public library supports."

"A problem is that most people, even people who support their libraries, don't know what libraries have to offer," said Reeves.

Sure, public libraries are all about books. But they're also all about services such as children's literacy programs, innovative programs for adults, live online homework help, genealogy research, financial planning classes, employment applications, training programs, video conferencing, Internet research, online cattle auctions (yes, cattle auctions), and much more. Whatever a community shows a need for, their local public library is there to try to meet that need.

But meeting the needs of their communities is getting harder these days as libraries, like most other agencies, experience cuts in their budgets.

Funding cuts impact library materials, programs, and the number of staff members available to help. In large part because of the declining economy, there's more traffic in and out of public libraries. People use their libraries for entertainment, research, job searches, almost anything imaginable. Library usage is increasing, but funding is decreasing.

According to data put out by the State Library of Kansas, library materials circulation has increased 35 percent since 2000. On a typical day, Kansas public libraries welcome 59,884 people, answer 8,559 reference questions, provide 3,033 children with learning programs, and connect 25,165 people to the Internet.

"The recession has made the need for public libraries even greater than before," Reeves said. "On any given day, the Dodge City Public library alone has 500 visitors. These people are here for a variety of reasons, but a need for the Internet is huge."

Today job searches and applications are done on the Internet, income tax forms are filled out and submitted on the Internet, virtual classes are taken on the Internet.

"We're busier than we've ever been," Reeves said. "We have 34 public computers with Internet access, and on some days there's a wait. In addition to local visitors, we also have lots of people traveling through town who look for the public library so they can connect to their email."

The "Geek the Library" campaign hopes to raise awareness about the importance of library funding support.

"Most people aren't sure how libraries get their money," McFarland said. "Public libraries are supported by local tax funds and the budget is supplemented by some regional or state funding, but that level of support is decreasing as well."

Since library usage is up and funding is down, there is a problem. Many libraries are facing decreasing budgets, which will result in a devastating impact on their services and programs.

The Geek the Library campaign hopes to encourage more people to do what they can to keep their libraries afloat.

"The idea is to get people to visit the Geek website, to learn about programs available, and to tell their local government how important libraries are to the community," said Sitz. "Some libraries are taking significant budget cuts. This effects what we're able to do. Library services are important throughout Kansas, but they're especially vital to rural areas, where other services, like early childhood education, just aren't available. That's when local funding becomes even more important than ever."

In upcoming months, Kansas libraries will begin to provide a variety of activities associated with Geek the Library. Some area libraries have already started promotions.

Let's think about it: our libraries provide high-speed Internet access for everyone, knowledgeable and helpful librarians, a wealth of entertainment and informational materials, and a variety of local programs for people of all ages. They do these things for us free of charge.

Now it's about time for us to get our geek on and show them just how much we appreciate their efforts.

Visit www.geekthelibrary.org for more information.

 


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