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June 2012
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Library expands children's services, digital literacy programming



pend a day in the McCracken County Public Library and it won't take long to see just how dedicated the library team is to its mission of serving the needs of the Paducah community.

With new programming, events and outreach opportunities offered this year, the library continues to grow toward that mission while pushing the community to learn new things and tackle new goals. This year, the team's efforts have been combined to assist local children with school preparedness and help adults grow in digital literacy.

Sarah McGowan, adult services manager and interim library director, said new programs introduced this year include a number of children's programs like Wonder Time, a hands-on craft hour, and 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, a program challenging parents and guardians to read one book with their child each day for three years before school begins.

"We encourage hands-on activities where children can make things themselves and we really encourage them to get in there, make mistakes and learn from them," McGowan said.

"And, by participating in 1,000 Books, you can have great bonding time with your kids and also strengthen their language skills and build their vocabulary before they even get going in school."

In adult services, the library team has focused on encouraging and facilitating digital literacy among community members.

The organization received a Community Giving Grant of about $2,000 from Paducah Bank this year, using it to help purchase a mobile computer lab full of Google Chromebooks and an internet hotspot.

"We want to provide more digital access here in the library but we also wanted to increase our outreach programming as well," McGowan said. "We take the mobile out and show people how to set up an email address, how to compose a resume, how to download e-books, how to use our online resources, anything they need."

The team takes the mobile lab to locations throughout the city such as assisted living facilities, housing authority complexes and area service organizations, tailoring educational content to the needs of each community.

"We focus on what we see they need. Broadband access is not universal, so we see that need every day," McGowan said.

"In libraries, the questions we received used to be like, 'Can you help me find this piece of information?' Now, it's 'Can you help me do this thing online?'" she added. "It's getting now to where if you don't have those digital literacy skills, you can't participate in society, so we just think that was something the library can address, with our resources, expertise and staff."

In response to that need, they've also set up a Tech @ Nite program which takes place every Thursday evening. Community members can make up to one-hour one-on-one appointments with library technology staff to address personalized digital learning needs.

"I'm most excited about our technology outreach and programming. That is where I think libraries' futures lie," McGowan said. "It's about being willing to experiment, try things outside of our comfort level and not being threatened by new technology. We see it as an opportunity. This is an exciting time to be a library, and the community has been so embracing. You have to have a community that has that vision that can see the need and embrace that digital growth, and we've got that here."

The library is also experiencing a time of transition in terms of personnel, as seven-year director Julie Hart spent her last day as such in mid-August.

Hart, a Paducah native, developed her love of libraries right at Ninth and Broadway where the Carnegie Public Library once stood.

After college, Hart's career took her to libraries in Mississippi and Arkansas before she got to return home at the helm of the McCracken County Public Library in 2009.

Shortly after she accepted the position, however, her first grandson was born back in Arkansas. Though it was difficult to leave the library she loves, Hart said she can't imagine waiting until she retires to move closer to her son and grandson.

To that end, she accepted a position as a librarian at the College of the Ouachitas in Malvern, Arkansas.

"It's a community college, so I'll be working with the kids and nontraditional students, and it'll just be a whole career change," she said during an interview with The Sun in August. "I'm kind of looking forward to it."

To find Hart's replacement the library's board of trustees has hired a Kansas City, Missouri-based firm that specializes in library executive searches.

"They're actually the ones who helped us when we found Julie," said Rachel Norton, board president. "They've worked with Owensboro and Lexington too. ... We're looking at probably December or early January before the new director starts."

Until then, McGowan will continue to serve as interim library director.

Looking back, Hart said the library's staff is probably her proudest accomplishment.

"That, and I'm so proud of the fact that we now have a lot more creativity in the building than we did before," she said.

Hart didn't want to brag, so Norton bragged for her.

"And we're in the Kentucky Public Library Association's top seven libraries in the state for the second year," Norton added.

Norton's always been a big supporter of the library, she said, but didn't realize the scope of its reach until she became a board member and saw it by the numbers.

"They average over 31,000 people coming through the doors each month, roughly 1,000 per day, checking out 65,000 books and DVDs per month," Norton said. "That's just incredible."

The library's reach and circulation totals have continued to climb under Hart's leadership with 713,270 items in circulation this year, up from roughly 650,000 in 2009. But Hart is proudest of her people.

"It's an amazing staff. We don't just have talented people, we have talented people with heart, and that makes a world of difference. They're all so caring, and I think that's a pretty big accomplishment.

"If I could say one thing to the next director, I'd say, 'You're blessed,'" Hart said.

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