Demographics and technology have changed in the almost 20 years since the Allen County Public Library added the Aboite and Dupont branches.
Thursday, the library held another of its listening sessions to hear what community members would like to see happen to the downtown library and its 13 branches. Some wanted expansion of smaller libraries; others wanted small meeting rooms to accommodate students and others who needed to tackle projects together.
Their input will be included in the Facilities Master Plan that has sought suggestions to prepare the highly regarded library system for the next 20 years, said Rick Ortmeyer, part of a team hired by the library system to study community and buildings needs.
Late last year, a team of library professionals familiar with changes in library systems across the U.S. was hired to help Allen County get its priorities in order. Funding will come later, Ortmeyer said.
“As the community needs change, the facilities that help libraries should change,” said Ortmeyer of Bostwick Design Partnership in Cleveland The firm specializes in library planning, programming and design.
Ortmeyer was present Thursday at the downtown public library for one of several of the listening sessions.
Nancy McCammon-Hansen moved to Fort Wayne 15 years ago with her husband and believes the quality of a library system compares to the quality of a city.
“I didn't hear one bad word about it,” McCammon-Hansen recalled. “Everyone was proud the library was expanding.”
She uses the world-renowned genealogy section and is a volunteer with the Lincoln Collection housed at the library.
“Access Fort Wayne – those folks have been wonderful,” she said.
She believes the libraries on the edge of town need to be expanded because “not everyone has the time or the ability to get downtown.” She'd like to see more books “right when you go through the door.”
Margaret Leslie has lived in Fort Wayne nearly all her life and mostly likes the fiction and DVDs, although “sometimes she's up in business and technology,” she said. She appreciates the music performed in the “wonderful little theater” downtown that is “very acoustic.”
Like McCammon-Hansen, she believes the Tecumseh branch on State Boulevard needs to be expanded and would like to see quiet areas for reading created, maybe panels that could absorb some of the noise.
“It's interesting to see what other libraries offer,” she said after she made her suggestions on colored sticky notes the professional team was ready to document. “We have such a world-class library.”
Although the listening sessions continue with small groups of people speaking with Susan Baier, the new director of the Allen County Public Library, and the team, people have also been responding to an online survey.
Ortmeyer said the team was pleased that more than 200 people have responded to the survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/ACPL_FMP_Community_Survey.
Baier provided statistics showing that with the population growth in Allen County, more people are checking out books and other items. In 2010, that number was 7.8 million items; in 2019, 10.2 million, she said.
If anything, the pandemic proved that computer access is crucial for citizens. “It's a lifeline for job seekers,” Ortmeyer said. It's also crucial for students where schools may assume that “you have online access and a computer.”
Some of the older buildings in the 14-facility library system will probably need renovation and more small meeting rooms where students can collaborate, Ortmeyer added.
More information can be found at www.acpl.info.