DELMAR — For over 100 years, Bethlehem Public Library has been a center of lifelong learning and a gathering place for the community. With more than 325,000 visits in the past year, the library is a hub of activity in a town that embraces and supports its cultural assets.
In 2019, the Board of Trustees embarked on a comprehensive Long Range Planning process that will outline goals to deliver the services and experiences that are a priority to the people who use the library – as well as those who will use it in the years to come. To do that, library staff and trustees have been reaching out to residents and community stakeholders over the past months through brainstorming workshops, surveys and individual interviews to hear their ideas for the future of the library.
The feedback has been plentiful, with many voicing a desire for the library to maintain or expand traditional collections of books and media while seeking opportunities to provide additional quiet study and gathering spaces for groups of varying size. A number of people also said they were interested in seeing enhanced teen and children’s areas, as well as improved access to the building itself.
“We are now bringing together all of these ideas that we’ve been hearing in order to come up with a comprehensive vision of our service and space needs as we look ahead,” said Library Director Geoffrey Kirkpatrick.
He noted that public input has been an essential part of planning for the library’s future.
“The library’s Long Range Plan will truly be a document informed by the community. When we started the process, we tried to make sure there were no preconceived ideas of what the end result would be. We want to make sure it reflects what people in Bethlehem are actually telling us they want from the library.”
A final draft of the Long Range Plan is expected by the end of the year, but library staffers are not waiting until then to look for new, innovative ways to serve the community –they’ve been doing it all along.
The library is gearing up for another season of bringing the Pop-Up Library to the Saturday Farmers Market and other local events this summer. The Pop-Up Library is just one of the many ways Bethlehem Public Library extends its service beyond the brick-and-mortar structure. Another is Free Library WiFi in public areas throughout the community, including the town park and Five Rivers Environmental Education Center. BPL librarians are also regularly out and about in the schools hosting programs and book discussions in collaboration with the teachers and school librarians.
This spring, the wildly popular seed library will return for a second year with a host of supporting programs. Checkouts from the Library of Things were up 22 percent in the past year as patrons borrow new technology like laptops and WiFi hotspots, along with “just for fun” items like karaoke machines, telescopes, GoPro cameras, American Girl Dolls and more. And Kanopy streaming video service was also recently added to the list of e-materials available to Bethlehem cardholders. The library offers all of these new services and materials in addition to its core collection and traditional programs like story times, book discussions, lectures, concerts and performances.
Since its founding in 1913, Bethlehem Public Library has been a true reflection of the community’s interests and values, and a Long Range Planning process that incorporates vital public feedback means that it will remain so in the years to come.
Kristen Roberts is former managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers and is presently the public information specialist for the Bethlehem Public Library.