“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” - Maya Angelou
Since the earliest days of recorded civilization, libraries have been the foundation upon which all knowledge is built. From the scrolls in ancient Alexandria to our modern library hybrids of traditional books and digital information, libraries have helped minds expand and human innovation grow. For many of us older adults, the 21st century is rapidly evolving into a futuristic wonderland we only thought was possible on sci-fi television shows like Star Trek. The Cleburne County Library keeps one foot rooted in the long, proud heritage of libraries, while placing the other foot firmly through the door of the future.
Since its renovation from a small, local library to a state of the art learning facility in 2014, the library has become one of the crown jewels of the county, with over 45,000 books on the shelves, expanded activities, and an internet/digital hub for area residents. When you include video, audio, and other items, the library offerings are close to 50,000.
One of its greatest successes is the children's program, which is led by Pat Hoisager, whose tireless enthusiasm keeps it going strong each week.
"One of the things I think I'm most proud of is the kids program," said Cleburne County Library Director Zac Cothren. "I see a lot of foot traffic going to those programs. We cater to all aged children, with some kind of kids program every day. In just the two and a half years I've been here, I've seen kids outgrow it, but there are always new kids coming in, so it stays active. We went from having around eight to ten programs a year to having that many in a week."
One of the most popular children's programs is the Saturday program, which usually has a fun theme and a host of activities for the kids. You can always see what the program is in The Sun Times Calendar of Events each week.
As active as the programs are for the younger children, catching the interest of older kids can be difficult.
"One of my biggest disappointments so far is how difficult a time we've had reaching the teenage crowd," said Cothren. "That's understandable, though. I get it. We have to compete with smartphones, video games, and social media, which have a big hold on teenagers. Some libraries have started doing gaming, and I think that's good, in a way, because it gets kids in the building, but I also think they're getting enough of that now, so the library doesn't need to become another GameStop for them."
One nontraditional area in which the library has expanded is that of graphic, or illustrated, novels.
"I actively resisted those things for quite some time," said Cothren. "Then I saw a case with my own daughter, who had reading scores lower than what I would have liked. She started reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid and some of those other comic bubble type books. Within a four or five month time period, she went from about a 50th percentile reading level to being somewhere over the 80th percentile. Around that same time, I was in grad school and was taking a graphic novels class. In my mind, I had always thought that was a waste of resources and that it was just a comic book. That is not the case. Kids are more visual and sometimes have a little more trouble focusing. In these novels, they can bounce from image to image without having to look at line after line of words."
"One of the things I learned in school, which seems to be leading to their rise in popularity, is that attention spans are declining," he continued. "Their minds can't focus on stuff quite as long because they're used to switching from this to that quickly."
Another benefit to bringing graphic novels into the library is they can also help those who struggle with reading a particular word or words understand what is taking place in a story. If they have trouble recognizing or reading that word, oftentimes the graphic can help convey that meaning, which in turn helps them learn what the word means. The graphics can also visually convey a nuanced meaning that some may not comprehend through the words themselves.
"At the end of the day, they all serve the same purpose," said Cothren. "Even if it's only one in five kids that it makes a lifelong reader, that's one more kid that's continuing to grow and educate themselves throughout their lives."
Living life in the digital world is unavoidable and libraries are no exception. The Cleburne County Library sees significant traffic on its public computers, averaging around 40 to 50 users a day. Monthly, use averages over 1000.
"There are a wide variety of users out there," he said. "You've got some people who are using the computers solely for entertainment purposes, playing games or watching YouTube videos. But then you've got people trying to finish up their degrees. We see an uptick around this time of year of people coming in to use them to fill out their taxes."
Cothren said the library's role has changed in the past decade or two.
"Used to, the library was where you would go to get information," he said. "Now it's where you go to filter information and get something you can actually use. People don't look for the best source anymore. They look for the most convenient source."
Nowhere is this more apparent than using a Google search, or any other search engine.
"It's like fast food," said Cothren. "It's fast and convenient. When you Google something, most people will not even get halfway down those search results. And those top ones can be totally wrong answers. And many people don't even realize that those top results are often paid ads. It's the same with Wikipedia. You or I can go on there and write that I was a reincarnated king from the 8th century. And yeah, Wikipedia may pull it down, but it may take them a month before they ever catch it and, by that time, thousands, if not millions, of people have seen it and accept it as true. They settle for what they first see. And that's what the library is good for. If there is a book on that shelf, you may not necessarily agree with the information, but for the most part it's a pretty vetted piece of material."
The Cleburne County Library has also expanded into e-book offerings. Patrons can check out an e-book that can be read on multiple platforms, including online browsers and Kindle. Checkouts are limited to two, like a normal book, and can either be read online or downloaded to their device. At the end of the two week checkout period, the book will disappear from the device and must be checked out again.
A small gallery space was added to the library to feature a rotating schedule local artists.
"It's great because we see a lot of people come in to just look at the art," said Cothren. "The community really needs a place to be able to showcase our artists and we are happy to be able to provide that here. We love how it makes our building look and we love that people come here to see it."
Whether it's browsing the internet, getting your child interested in reading, checking out local art, opening your mind to the expanding world of graphic novels, or just picking out a traditional paper book, a world of learning and adventure awaits at the Cleburne County Library, now and far into the future.
For more information on the Cleburne County Library and its offerings, check out their website at www.cleburnecountylibrary.com or give them a call at 501-362-2477.