The teen area of the Shepherdstown Public Library is a cozy and welcoming place. The pillow is hand-crafted from an original design by Jessie Ward, the Children’s Librarian at the library.
A year ago, The Observer stopped by to take some photos of the new Shepherdstown Public Library. There were rows and rows of empty shelves, stacks of new chairs, the crisp smell of new construction — and an energetic sense that something big was about to blossom there. As the library celebrates one year in the new facility, that energy is more than just a sense, it’s all-encompassing.
With the successful launch of the new building library, the Shepherdstown Public Library has also initiated a leadership transition. Director Hali Taylor, who has worked at the library for 33 years, and development director Lee Ann Warner have both announced their retirements. The Observer posed a few question to Taylor, asking her to reflect on how the new library has transformed over the past year and what lies ahead:
Observer: There seem to be a lot more people in this building whenever I visit. How does the utilization compare to the old building? Have you seen new patrons over the past year?
Taylor: As word gets out about the numerous and enriching programs and opportunities afforded by the new facility, more and more people are discovering the new library. In the Market House we could not have programs upstairs in the children’s area for two reasons: 1) we didn’t have enough space, and 2) it was not accessible to children with mobility issues. We didn’t even bother to consider onsite adult programs, and our teen space consisted of one chair in a 5 by 8 foot alcove. Since we opened the new library, we have welcomed about 2,000 people every month. We have issued over 1,100 new borrower cards since we opened barely a year ago, and people are especially impressed by the parking availability.
Observer: Obviously you have lots of books here, but can you talk about other services offered by the library that you’ve been able to expand or introduce?
Taylor: Our mission is to provide the resources and the space to fulfill not only the informational needs of the community, but also to enable the enrichment of the lives of our patrons. We provide many services including answering reference questions, inter/intra-library loans, notary services, photocopying, faxing, document scanning; we also offer wi-fi, computer usage, and hotspots for loan — all free to patrons.
Our free digital resources include access to Ancestry.com, Libby (a downloadable eBook, eAudio, and eMagazine database), Artist Works (a database offering free lessons in all kinds of musical instruments and art classes), and Learning Express Library (a wonderful resource for practice tests for many disciplines, writing resumes, and conducting job searches). Patrons can use our media lab to create their own videos and podcasts. Our local history and genealogy room offers a quiet space for research and the community room hosts free craft get-togethers, meditation, book clubs, author presentations, and space for non-profit board meetings. The community room can also be rented out for special occasions such as baby showers, birthdays, art shows, etc.
Observer: The new facility is more than just a building. Tell us about what happens outside the walls as well and how that relates to the public library mission.
Taylor: The story of the land upon which the library sits is the ultimate environmental success story. The library was built on the site of the former municipal dump of the Corporation of Shepherdstown, opened in 1954. It was a burn dump and operated for 15 years until the state required regulated landfills for trash disposal. The site sat unused and overgrown until it was offered to the library to use for a new building. The cleanup process was facilitated by the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, and the land received its Certificate of Completion in December 2014.
Fast forward to July 2022 and Peggy Bowers burst upon the scene. She arrived with a vision of a native forest, pollinator plants, and community involvement during the entire planting process. Since then, she and grant-writer Carolyn Thomas have received multiple grants for free trees, pollinator plants, and for establishing a beautiful native environment surrounding the library. There will be educational walks and signs to educate visitors about the plants themselves. There is also a donor-funded contemplative garden with comfortable benches, and the black walnut benches were all made by Al Thomas, crafted from the trees harvested off the property before the site development began.
Observer: Have the programming and services for children changed in the new facility?
Taylor: The children’s programs have exploded in the new facility, due largely to the energy and vision of Rachel Heller, our Youth Director. She has been particularly successful in bringing teenagers (the “Bigfoot” of librarianship!) into the library by allowing them to make it their own — with Anime and Manga book clubs, self-directed art sessions, and implementing and encouraging broad acceptance attitudes. Jessie Ward, the new Children’s Librarian, has brought her boundless creativity to the programs, and we have seen a wonderful increase in attendance at all of our programs.
Observer: You are in the process of passing the director’s baton to Christy Hagerty. Tell us why you’re excited to see her take on the role.
Taylor: Christy is perfect to take on the role of director. With 20 years of library experience, some of it at the Shepherdstown Public Library itself, and having been a member of the community for many years, she is perfectly suited to the position. We have worked together in the past, and she is familiar with many of the operational systems and also the general library culture. There will be a fun training period over the next week, during which she will learn everything about the running of the library. But the reason that I am most excited is that Christy herself is so excited to take on this role!
Observer: What do you foresee as the library’s biggest challenges over the next few years? Are there specific projects still on the wish list?
Taylor: Funding is always at the top of the list. While we have some dedicated funding from the state and local tax-based revenues, there is a shortfall. We have incredible support from the Nourishing Literacy Giving Circle [members donate an amount equivalent cost of a restaurant meal each month], and the Friends of Shepherdstown Library who have at least four fundraisers per year. The Shepherdstown Public Library Foundation is being revitalized, and we hope that people will consider donating and/or bequeathing funds so that the library will have a predictable, sustainable, and adequate funding source going forward.
The next biggest challenge, I believe, will be changing the hearts and minds of people who think they can dictate what other people have informational access to. They do not have the right to choose for other people, but that has to be conveyed in a non-threatening, fact-based manner — hoping that they will realize that someone else may want to ban what they consider appropriate.
Observer: What do you say to someone who asks “why are public libraries important?”
Taylor: The fundamental role of the free public library is to be the guardian of our first amendment right to freedom of speech. That freedom, however, is meaningless unless the freedom to hear and read that speech is also protected. The core service of a public library is free access to all that information. That information can exist in many formats and it is the duty of the librarian to connect patrons to the information they need or desire in whatever format is available. Our new library has increased many-fold our ability to provide that information to our community. It is critical to our democracy – we are a cornerstone of that democracy and will defend it passionately.
The Shepherdstown Library is at 145 Higbee Lane (off the Route 45 bypass, between Morgans Grove Park and Potomac Farms Nursery). Online at ShepLibrary.org. The Friends of Shepherdstown Library (FOSL) invites the community for an Ice Cream Social to celebrate the one year anniversary of the new Shepherdstown Public Library on Saturday August 19, 1 to 3 pm, with plenty of ice cream, cake, local musicians, and childrens activities. Details at FOSLwv.org.By Staff Contributor