Providing a host of services to help people in the community is a priority of the Alachua County Library District.
From hosting events that help people get prepared to reenter the job market to providing safe spaces for teens to play video, chess, checkers and other games, the district offers a host of services that caters to the needs of the entire community, said Shaney Livingston, who has been the director of the Alachua County Library District since November 2011.
“Our free services that a lot people are not aware of include the downloading of five free mp3s each week from Freegal, classes on coding, meeting room space, book club kits, literacy and English as a second language services for adults,” Livingston said. “We are not just about books anymore. We offer everything from watercolor classes to coding workshops. We held our first Spring Music Series of concerts this year and plan to continue next year. ”
Though the district has many more services today than it had in the past, book checkouts still is its most popular service. From the beginning of its fiscal year, Oct. 1 of last year, through June 30, 2.9 million items have been checked out of the district’s 12 branches, which is a 13 percent increase during the same time frame from the prior fiscal year, Livingston said, adding that programs offered at the library attracted 120,000 attendees during the same timeframe, which is a 23 percent increase from the prior fiscal year.
“We have really done a good job of better marketing our services,” Livingston said.
Besides doing a better job of marketing its services, the district, under Livingston’s leadership, has also grown to better meet the needs of its users throughout Alachua County.
The Cone Park branch on East University Avenue is the newest branch, and several branches have received expansions, including the Newberry branch by 3,200-square-feet, High Springs branch by 3,500-square-feet and the Tower Road branch by 8,500-square-feet. Also, the Waldo branch received a new building with 4,000 additional square-feet of space, and the Library Partnership branch in northeast Gainesville moved into a brand new building built from the ground up, which the district owns outright.
“Through our capital projects program, as we have expanded, renovated and built new facilities, we’ve added snuggle-up centers, teen spaces, study rooms, quiet reading rooms and dedicated makerspaces at some locations,” Livingston said. “These additions have allowed our patrons to have dedicated spaces for children, teens and traditional users looking for a quiet place in the library to study or just read.”
To further make the library more efficient for users, Livingston said in 2012 the district purchased a new integrated system that gives users more control of their accounts and allows them to go online and place holds on items and download e-books. In addition to e-books, which the district has increased by more than 500 percent since 2011, users also have access to online magazines and audio books.
The district has also increased its services to include 3D printing, sewing machines, coding, Lego, foodie space, video space and more, Livingston said.
“We’ve added new programs for the public’s entertainment, such as our ‘Author Series’ that started in 2014 and is generously funded by our Friends of the Library, Fandemonium, a comic con event held every other year, and we launched Freegal Music in 2014, and this is where our patrons can download music for free to their devices,” Livingston said.
The district is funded by ad valorem taxes, contributions from Friends of the Library and a foundation and its budget this year is just over $36.5 million, Livingston said.
Moving forward, the district has several plans on the horizon that include adding new printer pay stations so patrons can pay with credit cards and enable wireless printing from mobile devices and laptops, Livingston said.
“We hope to roll this technology out districtwide by the end of the calendar year,” Livingston said. “Going into the next year, we’re also focused on transforming our communication with patrons - building stronger connections with each library customer. With this goal in mind, we are working on our first email newsletter for patrons and creating a library app. A launch date has not been set for either project, but we are eager to introduce these digital tools.”
With the addition of the Cone Park and Library Partnership branches, the district has increased its presence in East Gainesville during the past decade, Livingston said. At the Cone Park branch, patrons of all ages use the computers and free Wi-Fi. Adults use computers for everything from applying for jobs to watching their favorite video clips online and children also like to use the branch’s computers to play games, Livingston said.
At Library Partnership, computers are also a major draw. Library staff helps adults as needed with technology questions and provide one-on-one scheduled computer instruction three days a week.
“One-on-one homework help is offered two days a week by appointment and will be increased to three days a week. Our proximity to seven schools makes the branch a natural location to provide homework assistance to children in need,” Livingston said.
Library Partnership’s original location opened in 2009 at 1120 NE 16th Ave. as the first library/resource center model in the country. The branch moved to its current location at 912 NE 16th Ave. last fall. The Library District collaborated with Partnership for Strong Families, the Department of Children and Families and the Casey Family Foundation to pioneer the library/center resource center model in order to holistically address needs of East Gainesville residents, Livingston said.
The Cone Park branch opened on Nov. 10, 2011, at 2841 E. University Ave. in a temporary modular space. The permanent location opened in December 2013. The branch features computer work stations, a snuggle-up center, teen space, quiet reading room and meeting room. The Cone Park branch also has a resource center run by Partnership for Strong Families.
“These branches were built to serve the East Gainesville community with library resources, as well as provide access to critical social services through Partnership for Strong Families,” Livingston said. “As evidenced by the popularity of our computers at both branches and the recording studio at the Library Partnership branch, these locations are helping bridge the community’s digital divide through access to technology.”
Services and resources provided by the library are aimed at serving the needs of the entire community, Livingston said.
“Whatever your interest or age, there’s a free program at the library to entertain and inspire you,” Livingston said. “We also offer meeting spaces free of charge, from small study rooms to large meeting rooms. Community members can reserve these spaces online, over the phone or in person.”