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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, August 09, 2017 1:00 am

Transformative vision

Library seeks your views on best path forward

Greta K. Southard

Public forums

6:30-8 p.m. Aug. 14

Pontiac Branch, 2215 S. Hanna St.

6:30-8 p.m. Aug. 22

Grabill Branch, 13521 State St.

1:30-3 p.m. Aug. 23

Main Library, Room C

900 Library Plaza

6:30-8 p.m. Aug. 23

Monroeville Branch, 115 Main St.

10:15-11:45 a.m. Aug. 24

Hessen Cassell Branch, 3030 E. Paulding Road

2:30-4 p.m. and 6:30-8 p.m. Aug. 24

Main Library, Room C

900 Library Plaza

10:15-11:45 a.m. 1:30-3 p.m. 6:30-8 p.m. Sept. 6

Main Library, Room A

900 Library Plaza, Fort Wayne

10:15-11:45 a.m. 1:30-3 p.m. Sept. 7

Main Library, Room C

900 Library Plaza

6:30-8 p.m. Sept. 7

Dupont Branch, 536 E. Dupont Road

Greta K. Southard is director of the Allen County Public Library.

As a library professional, I can tell you that we tend to pride ourselves on our ability to find the answer to almost any question a customer brings to us. What is the current exchange rate of the euro? Do you have any books about Mark Twain? Where can I find a repair manual for a 1976 Corvette? Throw any question our way, and we know exactly what resources to use to find the answers you seek.

As the Allen County Public Library undergoes the strategic planning process, we now find ourselves in the position of seeking out information. We will be asking a lot of questions of the people and organizations who use our libraries and services, as well as those who don't. What are we doing well? What could we do better? What programs should we be offering that aren't currently available? Those questions are focused on the library's internal operations, and while they are important, they are not the sole focus of the information-gathering process.

We are also asking for your feedback on matters about the larger community we serve. We want to know what kind of community you want to live in.

What issues are most important to you? What should our area be known for, excel at? What will it take to make your visions a reality?

Those are big, aspirational questions. And you might be wondering: Why is the library asking them?

Public libraries in the21st century, regardless of size, can thrive and become the center of their communities, providing valuable services and facilities for residents of all ages. Your hopes and dreams for what our community can become should drive the Allen County Public Library's overall vision, mission and goals.

Our library system has shown a unique talent for adapting. We still have books, of course, but we also offer so much more. During the Great Recession, we realized that what our customers needed most from us was computer access and assistance with finding jobs. We adapted to meet those needs.

When e-books and streaming music had many saying that libraries would soon become unnecessary, we recognized that not everyone had access and met that challenge head on by offering e-books and streaming services to our customers. We adapted. (As a side note, books are still in demand. As Mark Twain would have said, the rumors of their death are greatly exaggerated.)

The library's ability to meet our community's immediate and unexpected needs is important. However, the strategic planning process and the insights that come out of it will allow the Allen County Public Library to guide our organization's path for the next five, 10, even 25 years in a manner consistent with the direction and vision of our community as a whole.

The success of this process relies on hearing from our customers – and even our non-customers – about what they need and want from the library.

We want you to share your thoughts and ideas. There will be several opportunities to do so.

Public focus groups will take place throughout the county. You may also participate in the online survey at www.acpl.info/strategicplanning or complete a paper survey at any library branch throughout Allen County.

I know that libraries can transform lives. I've witnessed it time and again. I also believe that libraries can transform communities. But it can only happen through a partnership between the library and the people who live in that community and are invested in its growth.

It's our library; our community; we want to hear your thoughts.