Changing Role of Public Library Emphasizes Program Services

Photos Courtesy Winn Parish Library

In today’s internet environment, “Are libraries now obsolete?” Parish Library Director Priscilla Massey was recently asked by a patron.  She responded to the Winn Parish Police Jury in her annual report Sept. 18 that the answer might be both “Yes” and “No.”

It could be “Yes” in terms of the old standard bricks & mortar library when people come just to check out books.  But it’s a resounding “No, we’re a vital element within this community” in terms of its role to patrons in a model of service that continues to change.

Lost, if you will, is the old standard of checking out reference books since most of that information is provided digitally, she said.   This is enhanced as the state library even offers tutoring services where students interact with certified tutors.  Some new reference books are still acquired by the local library but it is a smaller portion of the budget.

Another cut has been in the area of hand-held paper fiction books.  But the highly popular alternative is the patron access to the library’s “Libby” system which gives digital access to an enormous selection of books via iPhone, iPad or reader.  While there are still many traditional books to check out, Libby’s e-books and periodicals make up 23% of the library’s circulation.

Still “old fashioned” yet popular is the library’s reading room where many of the library’s regulars find a magazine or newspaper in the room or bring in a book for quiet reading.  Others simply find the quiet a good place to study.  The librarian added that there is also a separate study room in the back which patrons may reserve.  And there’s a public meeting room up front that is often pressed into service.

As patrons change the ways they use the library, the library has adapted to the way it serves.  Before the times of COVID, it seemed the parking lot remained busy and students came after school to take advantage of available equipment and online access.  That all closed down during the COVID era.  “Slowly and surely we’re building back up,” explains Miss Massey, “through patron use and physical visits.”  For 2022, the most recent full year of data, there were 24,000 visits through all of the branches across the parish.

The report stressed that its services to the people of Winn justify parish expenditures.  Services are not just at the main branch in Winnfield but also the rural branches in Calvin, Dodson, Sikes and Atlanta.  “We have a good working relationship with the schools which don’t have their own librarians so students are dependent on teachers at help them access their school and branch libraries.  We are remaining open in Atlanta and expect to work well with Magnolia Bend Academy which has opened in the area.”  Branch libraries are open three or four days a week in hours dependent on community needs.

Programming is another way that their service model has changed with special programs now a large part of the library’s operations.  Over 100 hands-on, real-people programs each year take place on-site in Winnfield and the branches.  Included are arts & crafts, story hours and monthly book clubs but the most popular is the summer reading program that brought in over 1,000 participants this year.  Some 74% of that programming promoted literacy.

Recently the Winn Parish Library added a youth literacy specialist to its staff to create and maintain literacy programs with a focus of conducting regular community and school literacy needs assessments. 

Overall, the report pitched the Winn Parish Library as a valuable community service.