Building the Next Generation Library

A message from Paula Brehm-Heeger, the Eva Jane Romaine Coombe Director of the Library:

Libraries are many things to many people, from places to find knowledge, peace and a bit of humanity and quiet in a hectic world to resource hubs where connections and community come alive. And of course, for many people, libraries are about books and reading. Thanks to the generous support of Hamilton County tax payers last May we have funds that will help us work collaboratively with our community to build “The Next Generation Library.” This is an awesome responsibility. Public libraries are among the most trusted and used institutions in the country, opens a new window, and for good reason. We take our mission of connecting people to the world of ideas and information seriously and our staff is excellent, caring and informed.

I have worked in public libraries for nearly thirty years and have always had an active awareness of how important and essential we are. Now that our Library is undertaking a year-long facility master plan process, which is the first part of the larger 10 year facilities improvement initiative we are calling “Building the Next Generation Library”, we are focusing outward to listen to what all our community members are saying they want from their libraries – for today and years to come. As part of this collaborative planning effort we have a committed Community Advisory Council that met for the first time as part of our kick-off to the facility master plan process in late February.

These are exciting times for our library, though we do face challenges. Many of our library buildings are, quite frankly, old--more than 100 years old in some cases. They are not built for today’s Hamilton County residents with their evolving technology and information access needs. That said, I am entirely impressed that anything 100 years old still works at all! That these buildings have had the capacity to be used for so many decades are testament to the thought, care and commitment a previous generation made to us. We owe the next generations the same level of commitment. Visit your local public library and you will see staff members wearing t-shirts and buttons inviting you to ask them about The Next Generation Library initiative. Please do so!

While access to knowledge has expanded with greater availability of information online, our Public Library system still boasts millions of visits each year. Recently I had the opportunity to attend a session of Saturday Hoops and speak to the enthusiastic group of kids participating in that program. I asked a long-time friend of mine, Malcom Tolliver, who I have known for more than 15 years, to come along and speak with me.

I first met Malcom when he was a student at Hughes High School. He joined the Library’s Teen Advisory Board when I coordinated services for and with teenagers for our Library system. I can talk a lot about the high-level and visionary importance of our Next Generation Library initiative but when Malcom told the kids that he loved the library most of all because it was the place where he could come and choose what he wanted to learn about, what information he wanted to explore rather than what he was told to do by his teachers or other adults, I thought how much that is one of the greatest, enduring powers of the public library: choice. We are all compelled to do many things to succeed, to support our livelihood, our families. But the millions of visits and check-outs of books and materials from our public library system represent people simply choosing to use an amazing resource because they find value in it. Using the Library and our resources brings joy and fulfillment and relief through knowledge and engagement.

This year is going to be a busy, exciting time when I, along with many of the Library’s dedicated and talented staff members, will be visiting communities throughout Hamilton County engaging users and potential users about ideas for the future of our public library. I hope to see and talk to as many of the county’s residents as I can throughout that process. If we don’t hear from you in person I hope you will take just a moment to engage in the various online options we will make available for providing input. For example, please take this very brief online survey, opens a new window to share your thoughts on what is important for libraries to provide you and your family.

Our Library system is fantastic – one of the best in the country, and we want to ensure that it works for everyone in Hamilton County. We need input and help from everyone to honor our legacy of excellence and Build the Next Generation Library that will be treasured by everyone in our community for years to come. Please join us on this journey.