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Kingsland Branch Library Technology Changing But Focus Remains

Kingsland Branch Library volunteer Cindy Daly organizes books that are for sale at the library. The book sales help support the Kingsland facility, which continues to find innovative ways to serve residents. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

KINGSLAND — Some time ago, a rumor started to circulate that libraries, particularly small community ones, were dying. Computers, tablets, and the "death of print" were killing them.

Well, if that's true, the patrons and staff at the Kingsland Branch Library, 125 W. Polk St., would probably rather go on living in their dreamland, which features this vibrant and forward-thinking facility.

"Yeah, we've heard that," said branch director Naphtali Renshaw about the supposed end of libraries. "I hear that and, you know, just shake my head because it's not true."

In fact, the Kingsland Branch Library’s mission continues, even though the means of achieving that mission has changed over the years for the facility and other libraries like it.

"We're actually excited in the many ways libraries are headed," she added.

That mission, she said, is connecting people with the information they need.

Libraries are at the forefront of making sure people of all backgrounds and economic standings have that access, but it hasn’t always been that way, Renshaw said. While libraries have been around for thousands of years, many once were private, owned by institutions and families. As such, the average person did not lay eyes on the bounds of information contained within their walls.

With the advent of the public library, people of all standings all of a sudden had access to countless books offering knowledge. With that knowledge, people could work to improve themselves.

Even with today's technology — the internet, Google, smartphones, and tablets, which can put an entire library in a person's hand — physical library locations such as the Kingsland Branch Library continue to play a vital role in the community.

For rural communities with a high population of economically disadvantaged residents, a library takes on even more responsibility.

Renshaw recalled a couple of patrons recently using the library’s computers to apply for a job at a business. The job application was online, but the people had no computer at home.

"Libraries in these rural areas are workforce centers," she said.

Along with applying for jobs, people come to the library to conduct job searches, learn how to complete résumès, and perform other career-building steps.

It's not just jobs, Renshaw said. People also use library computers and resources to apply for social welfare programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

"Some libraries are even hiring social workers to help with the needs of the people in their community," Renshaw added. "Libraries are taking on a much larger role in their communities. They are often providing a number of services that people probably never thought."

Technology remains a large part of the library, even the Kingsland facility, which is a branch of the Llano County Library System that also includes the Llano County Library in Llano and the Lakeshore Branch Library in Buchanan Dam. With the help of a grant and other funding, the Kingsland branch recently acquired a 55-inch IT Fusion that is great for on-screen presentations. The screen can also be laid horizontally, and with its touchscreen features, it basically becomes a large tablet computer.

"It's interactive, so for kids, they can do some amazing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) projects on it," Renshaw added.

The library is adding more technology options for children as well as six laptop computers.

While the Kingsland branch and other facilities continue to integrate technology into their services, they haven't forgotten the building block of a library: books. Through a recent grant, Renshaw was able to update the branch’s children’s and young adult book sections.

Even with the push for more technology, literacy remains a big focus of public libraries. The Kingsland branch works hand in hand with several local preschools, Head Start, childcare facilities, and even the Kingsland School, a public charter school offering kindergarten through sixth grade.

"We also offer tutoring (at the library) for struggling readers," Renshaw added.

But it’s not all about learning; sometimes, it’s just about having fun at the library.

The Kingsland branch added some tabletop and board games last year. Renshaw and the library’s staff noticed how much the patrons, particularly families, enjoyed this addition.

The branch director recalled a mother and son coming in and playing a game, sharing a fun experience as well as a conversation.

Renshaw said she hopes the library can even check out games to patrons this year.

It's part of that community-building aspect of the public library.

"They take the games home, you have the families sitting around the table, having fun, having great conversations," she said. "That's something the library can help with with some games. You know, those small impacts, they add up to building a stronger community."

So libraries are not fading into the past. Instead, they are reinventing themselves to become even stronger pillars of their communities.

"Libraries are constantly changing and evolving with the needs of our community," Renshaw added. "We really are seeing libraries grow and change to meet the needs and aspirations of the community."

If you don't believe it, stop by the Kingsland Branch Library and see firsthand. The library is open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-noon Saturday. Call (325) 388-3170 for more information.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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