While in northwest Kansas to see Monument Rocks, we stayed in Colby, the county seat. About three and a half hours from Denver, it’s a pleasant little city of about 5300 people with a few features you wouldn’t expect for a place of this size including lovely Fike Park with a mini Statue of Liberty, gazebo, massive shade trees and benches by a great playground with lots of slides. It’s also home to Colby Community College, a brand new taxpayer funded water park and they are adding 2.2 miles of walking trails.
Pioneer Memorial Library (PML) is a sizeable blond brick building in a residential area just three blocks from the cobblestone streets of downtown within easy reach by children on their bikes. There’s plenty of parking and the front entrance has an attractive fountain with marble accents set in a bed of pebbles with xeriscape plants while bushes, trees, a park bench, and a bike rack surround the structure.
I went in passed a Young Adult section which has an inviting booth and a new book shelf for youths, though they probably prefer the privacy afforded by this huge downstairs space where staff were prepping for a book sale that includes videos, DVDs, and almost anything people bring in.
It’s a great spot for kids to come after school as it isolates the noise and there are six internet computers, two laptops and a colorful AWE desktop with ninety games and educational modules for the younger set. With lots of tables, puzzles and games, two big screen TVs, one with four controllers for Wii and the other a two controller Playstation, both with web access, what more could an adolescent want?
As it has a small kitchen with a microwave, the room is used for author lunches. There are storage closets and a coat stand, plus a sound system and projection screen. Seating up to 135 people, businesses use it for training and they’ve hosted conferences and bible study groups here - as long as they aren’t selling anything, anyone can use it for free. Opened to the public in 2008, PML refurbished the basement with grants – the Thomas County Community Foundation helped quite a bit, but other local entities contributed too.
Director Melany Wilks (what a great name for a librarian! Despite the different spelling she was named for the saintly but tough character from Gone With the Wind, but it was fate that she married someone with that last name who is tall and blond like Ashley.) kindly showed me around. Originally from California, she worked at a seminary library with a big international population in the Philippines for thirteen years before returning to the states to get her Master of Library and Information Science and take the position here.
Melany was quite impressed with how much residents value PML and thinks they’d be up in arms if anyone dared to try to cut its budget. In fact, they aren’t very happy lately with Topeka, the state capital, as it’s decreasing funding and is hampering their ability to raise taxes. Farming communities really support their towns – she stressed that instead of griping about a problem, people here pitch in to solve it. PML has a 501(c)3 foundation and there are loads of small charities in the region. Many have helped the library – to express their gratitude they’ve created a page listing the donations e.g. the stunning painting behind the circulation desk shown above, which was purchased by the Jean Hutton Memorial. A number of PML’s furnishings bear plaques indicating they were given in memory of someone.
Upstairs there’s another meeting space with a fifty person capacity. Used for Thursday lapsit for tots 0-18 months and storytimes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Tuesday nights (this all ages session lets working parents attend with their kids – how inspired!), it also has a digital projector and sound system. Family Place, an early literacy forum which provides a structured environment that encourages caretakers to interact productively with their children is held here too. It’s kind of a parental counseling opportunity – specialists give talks and pointers so guardians can find out about hearing, eyesight and nutrition. The case Melany is standing next to houses toys, blocks… for this “play with a purpose.”
The pictures on the walls here are award winners from three years of the A Day in the Life of Thomas County contest…
…as are these photographs above the eight internet stations near YA.
It’s a capacious facility with handsome dark wood furniture, Pacs in the stacks and a floor covered with replaceable carpet tiles and ceramic painted to look like wood (they got a bequest for the new flooring).
Any of the 8000 or so residents in the county can use PML and via the Kansas State Library have access to numerous databases including several Spanish ones, Mango for languages, LearningExpress, downloadable e-books and e-audiobooks, and a Kansas historical document collection. PML has wifi, and will soon be getting their own fiber 10 mb downloadable internet access. They are part of the Northwest Kansas Library System.
The website has a graphical version of the catalog for children and three more loaded AWE computers can be found in the vibrant Children’s Room where enormous stuffed animals sit on brightly colored rugs near miniature tables and chairs.
Toys and games are scattered about and there’s a sink and lots of pretty embroidered fabric supply holders atop the many cupboards. Puzzles, kits and audio/book combo packs can be borrowed as well as video games in a variety of platforms (PML also lends digital and overhead projectors, a large screen, an MP3 player, cake pans, a bread machine, roaster and a coffee maker).
I love the cool blue stacks and toddlers must be fascinated by these mirrors.
PML has ten employees, five of them full time including Youth Librarian, Judy Kleinsorge, who has a part time assistant and the delightfully jumbled office that is a prerequisite for a good head of Children’s – as she said, “Creative minds are rarely tidy and I’m really creative.”
Their Facebook page has oodles of photos of the gorgeously decorated seats from the “Chair-ish Your Library” Friends of the Library fundraiser and promotes things like the annual murder mystery dinner, Trivial Pursuit and game nights, movie nights, a jazz concert where chocolate treats and desserts were served and genealogy workshops. Monthly “Booked for Lunch” talks sometimes include music, there’s a book club, and in September they have an author program. An active blog has been kept since 2005 and is filled with snaps from events.
Their award winning Friends group came up with PML’s theme “Bringing Words to Life” that adorns the wall above these three computers. And what an appropriate Kleenex box to the right of these terminals – it’s a stack of hardbacks.
Interestingly, customers sponsor the magazine collection to the left of the seats below via the Friends’ Adopt a Magazine program. All the issues, even the most current can be checked out for three days while children’s periodicals go out for two weeks.
A book table sits between these cushy chairs, beneath a library logo clock with the motto “It’s a fine time to read.” Nearby, a volunteer was clipping coupons from newspapers to add to a basket that everyone can pick through as they don’t get many in their local papers.
In the large lobby through the glass, a display case was being prepped to advertise the Dig into Reading Summer Reading Program which will include a theatrical production put on by middle schoolers and a visit from a Kansas zoo along with other events. Furnished with tall cafe tables and Queen Anne chairs there’s a paperback exchange by the employee only elevator, a free magazine spindle, a book sale case stuffed with the most popular authors and a community bulletin board.
This wonderful place truly enhances the locals’ spirit of togetherness.