Small-town libraries stretch funds, modernize services

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by Talbot Fisher, courtesy of The Register-Mail

What do you think of when you think of a small-town library? Maybe a small brick building full of musty books? Perhaps there is not a computer in sight, with no internet, no automation and an unfriendly old librarian who is unwilling to change with the times? Three area libraries defy that stereotype and bring a variety of modern services to their patrons. Maquon District Public Library, Village of Avon Public Library and Greig Memorial Library in Oneida (IL) have much in common, while having their own unique characteristics.

The Maquon library is a district library, and serves a tax base of five townships. Mardell May has been librarian there for about a year, and brought automation to the library in March. She also hopes to expand the library to include a historical museum.


The library also has an ongoing book sale, from donations by the community and a Lego club for kids.  The 25-year-old building recently received a new roof, siding, air conditioner and furnace, all much needed. The land for the small building was donated by Martha Shafer.

The library in Avon is housed in the same building that was built for that purpose in 1913. Funds were provided by Mary Saunders, a benefactor who also provided for the church and hospital in Avon at the turn of the century. Director Courtney Young has begun the process to get official historic landmark status for the building. It was deeded to the village in the 1950s, and serves the 799 people in Avon.

Young, who has been librarian since December 2015, made the automated system priority number one, and now checkouts use the bar code system, rather than the old stamp-cards that were once so common in the front of library books. The library also just started offering e-books, which can be downloaded at home by those with a library card. There has been an uptick in inter-library loans, and there are three computers for internet usage. The library also has free Wi-Fi and Young is working on building a website.The meeting room is often used by genealogists. The room holds cemetery records, microfilm and a card catalog of names with obituaries attached. A complete set of Avon High School yearbooks back to the 1920s sits on a shelf. Young hopes to renovate the basement to move the meeting room there, and use the current room for the children’s area. Young has also recently added a “young adult” section, featuring popular books such as the Percy Jackson and Divergent series.

At times, it has been difficult for some to understand the changes, as a “we’ve always done it this way” attitude among a few can at times stand in the way. The books are still the heart of the library, and on a budget of $4,000 a year, which comes out to about $333 a month. Young looks for book sales and uses Amazon to keep up with popular authors such as James Patterson and Danielle Steel. Over 850 patrons have used the library since May.

The Greig Memorial Library in Oneida is unique in several ways. First, the library is in a converted home, which was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Greig in 1930. Librarian Dave Sheppard is a rarity, actually living upstairs since becoming librarian in 2010, the first male to do so in the library’s history.

“It’s really a dream job,” he said.

Sheppard stocks the library on a budget of $100 a month, and knows how to make the most of it. Using Amazon, he is able to buy used books in near perfect condition for a fraction of the new price. Sheppard also has organized the library more like a bookstore, rather than using Dewey Decimal Classification.

“A service shouldn’t be harder than it needs to be,” Sheppard said. The children’s books are organized by grade level. Children’s non-fiction are labeled for easier identification, such as “places” and “people” rather than “geography” and “biographies.”

The adult books are organized into sections such as popular fiction, sci-fi and westerns. A large Christian fiction section is popular with older patrons. Non-fiction sections are organized by military history, animals and more.The library also has four internet computers and computer lessons; there is an adult coloring club on Wednesdays, and a summer reading program. The “RAT Pack” program allows ROWVA students to read and work toward the National Honor Society.

In 1999, a local history museum was opened as an extension of the library. Built from a porch, the money and most of the items within were donated by Audrey Swanson, who died this year. With a large table and pleasant lighting, it is also used as meeting room. Mardell May of the Maquon Library has been looking at the Oneida museum as inspiration for her goal of adding one to Maquon.

“It shows it can be done,” she said.