The majority of the new Dayton Metro Library branches are built. Now come the new possibilities.
As the Main Library and branches have been rebuilt, expanded or remodeled during the last five years, people started to look at the buildings differently. The new event spaces, coffee shop and youth rooms opened the door for the library to serve as everything from an afterschool hangout, to a job training program, to a podcasting studio. They screen movies, teach digital skills, host election debates, host salsa dancing lessons and bring together families for story time.
But while the libraries have the ability to be almost anything, they don’t have the resources to be everything. So as the Dayton Metro Library works to complete the last five of 18 construction projects, the staff wants learn what patrons want most.
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“We’re so much more than just books,” said Diane Farrell, director of external relations. “Now that the community is starting to see us differently because of the potential that was granted to us through all these new buildings, it’s ‘what does the community really need from us now that they look at us differently and now that we are different?’”
The library is encouraging community members to fill out a survey on daytonmetrolibrary.org about what they want (or don't want) from the system. So far, Farrell said patrons have not been shy about sharing their feedback and more than 1,000 people filled out the survey in the first 24 hours.
The survey being circulated will guide library staff as they create a five-year strategic plan, said Farrell.
She said they started by pulling together more than 100 different community leaders — some the library already partners with and some they don’t. Library leaders were trying to gauge how these leaders viewed the library’s role. The front line library staff also gave feedback.
“Now it’s really important to us in the next phase to confer with our patrons in the broader community and make sure we’re doing the things we should be doing,” she said.
Farrell said so far they are thinking the library should be placing a greater emphasis on building equity in the community, either via their own staff and resources or by partnering with a community group.
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They are looking at expanding their hours, depending on whether people want more time early in the morning, late in the evenings or on weekends.
In addition, library staff are looking at having more programs that bring different generations together.
On average, more than 7,000 people visit a Dayton Metro Library branch each day, with thousands more visiting the library online.
The American Library Association said public libraries have significantly grown the programs they offer since 2012, with the number of public programs offered per capita up 27.5%.
A 2019 survey by the organization found 77% of public libraries provide online health resources; 73% provide programs that assist individuals to apply for jobs, create résumés, and prepare for interviews; 97% help people complete online government forms; and 23% offer fitness classes. The report gave a wide variety examples of U.S. libraries becoming broader community resources, such as supplying overdose reversal medication to supporting racial justice initiatives.
Shannon Cox, Montgomery County Educational Service Center superintendent, said the Dayton Metro Library goes beyond traditional programming to be involved in community outreach programs for area students, such as partnering with community groups and employers to launch Career Adventure Camp for middle school students, and then scaling it then next year to reach 800 kids.
Cox said the library staff are always looking for ways to become the resource the community needs.
“Equity is a big word now and everyone is talking about it, but they mean it, and they live it and they are serious about it,” Cox said.