Not your dad’s library

A library card has always been a cheap passport to other worlds. But in the Information Age, when a vast repository of knowledge is just an internet connection away for the majority of Americans, how does a library remain relevant?

That’s a question the Mesa County Libraries system has answered boldly. Pivoting away from a “transaction” model of circulating books and DVDs and consciously focusing on education has earned the library system all sorts of accolades over the past couple years.

The latest recognition came last week when the library was named “District of the Year” by the Special Districts Association of Colorado. The library will celebrate the award today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the main library downtown and at the Clifton, Fruita, Orchard Mesa and Palisade branches.

The Special Districts Association lauded the library for thinking “outside of their own boundaries.” That’s a direct result of the library board seeking out a dynamic director, Joseph Sanchez, who’s a rising star in the fast-evolving world of library science.

But Sanchez credits the board with embracing a new way of doing things in the five years he’s been at the helm. “We’re big enough to get things done and small enough to get things done,” Sanchez said.

The library attempts to engage the community on a couple of fronts. The first is through education, which can range from high-tech education — teaching people how to use the only free-standing professional multimedia studio in the country — to simple pre-literacy.

More than 10 percent of the pre-kindergarten population is enrolled in a program to read 1,000 books before kindergarten, one of the critical benchmarks for educational success, Sanchez said. The library also offers scholarships for anyone who wants to earn a high school diploma, as well as citizenship training and adult literacy programs.

But the biggest splash the library has made is with “bleeding edge” programming. It can create an album for a local band or an audio book for a local poet. It has created a smartphone app, with generous support from Alpine Bank, to help users identify Colorado-specific wildlife. Its annual Comic Con event has outgrown the central library and will take place at Two Rivers Convention Center. It hosts a popular armchair traveler series and panel discussion on topics designed to draw people into the library and discover for themselves how the library has changed. It’s working with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to offer assistance to the local business community.

Most libraries are doing similar things to boost engagement, Sanchez said. “Our library receives national attention for being on the edge of that wave.”

As a special district funded by its own mill levy, the library has the autonomy and resources to chart its own course. The library district is doing so in award-winning fashion. We should take pride in having a library committed to expanding the educational capacity of the valley.


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