Public libraries strive to engage community


BUCKHANNON — Two public libraries in Upshur County are hopeful to work together to increase community engagement. Upshur County Public Library Director Paul Norko and Charles W. Gibson Library Director Catherine Norko explained the challenges and potential opportunities regarding the library system in Upshur County to Rotarians on Tuesday afternoon.

Paul began by explaining that one of the most challenging aspects for his library is getting the word out. “Not everyone pays attention to the same news source… Not everyone reads a flyer on the door of the library, not everyone reads the newspaper, not everyone checks Facebook. It is challenging finding a platform to reach all of the community,” he noted. Paul also brought attention to the fact that there is no public transit access like in previous areas he has lived. Therefore, they’re hoping to get on the County Roads Transit list of stops. He noted that they would also like to work with St. Joseph’s Hospital to better serve patrons who are unable to get to the library, in addition to creating better engagement with students of West Virginia Wesleyan College.

He also noted that Upshur County is a unique place, where two public libraries are simply three miles apart from each other. “We’re not trying to compete, but share the workload perhaps,” he expressed. The majority of individuals who enter the Upshur County Public Library are over 25 years of age, and more so 50 or older, according to Paul. Catherine agreed, explaining that 97% of their patrons are adults and only approximately 3% are children.

Essentially, they’re trying to serve and reach people of all ages and reading levels, hoping to get everyone involved and inspire a love for reading, according to Paul. Additionally, they aim to be a trusted source of information for people in the community. The Upshur County Public Library has recently added a new Wi-Fi hotspot program to provide mobile internet. They have also started an in-person reading program that takes place outdoors.

During the Upshur County Public Library’s most recent five-year strategic planning assessment, one of the main tentative goals is to create a closer relationship with the Upshur County Board of Education, he explained. “We want to see that every child in school has the ability and access to the library,” Paul noted.

With hopes of more sustainable funding in the future, Paul explained that they’re eager to increase the digital services they provide, such as the new Wi-Fi hotspot program. He stressed, “The problem is finding a source we can rely on to fund them. Our funding is very tight right now.” Moreover, they’re always in the process of trying to diversify their collection—trying to find new authors and different topics that are timely and relevant.

The Upshur County Public Library and the Charles W. Gibson Library differ slightly regarding funding. The Upshur County Public Library’s funding comes partly from grants and aid from the state (State Library Commission), but also from the Upshur County Commission and substantially from the Upshur County Board of Education. Their Board of Directors is comprised of five individuals appointed by the Upshur County Board of Education and Upshur County Commission. Whereas, the Charles W. Gibson Library is mainly levy funded through the City of Buckhannon. The rest is through state grants and aid, Catherine explained. Their Board also includes five individuals, but they’re selected and appointed by the City of Buckhannon.

When Catherine began in 2019, she explained the Charles W. Gibson Library had an issue with simply having too much material crammed in the building. “If there was a nook, we probably had a book in it,” she joked. “But it’s not so great with the fire department. So, we spent the last year and a half slimming and trimming our collections down,” she noted. However, many visitors are pleasantly reminded of the old-time bookstore feel when entering the Gibson Library, Catherine expressed. Rotary President Julie Keehner confirmed this when reminiscing about bringing her own children into the library when they were kids.

The pandemic gave the Gibson Library an opportunity they desperately needed. Catherine stated, “We used the pandemic to our advantage to clean things up and rearrange.” She noted that they were considering closing for a period of time in order to make it happen, but the pandemic happened and allowed them that down time to make those needed adjustments.

Like Paul, Catherine is hopeful to revitalize their relationship with the community. At the Charles W. Gibson Library, they’re working on building collections and programs that will excite kids and encourage them to step through the doors.

Although the building was not intended for a technology boom, they are working on creating more electrical access for computers and other technological incentives. “We are looking at ways to improve our building’s functionality in its current configuration,” she explained. Also, they’re working on expanding their genealogy collections and digital services for genealogy in the next fiscal year. Coming up on June 14, they will begin their first summer reading program. “Which is huge because no one could remember the last time we offered a summer reading program,” Catherine stated. She added, “We have high hopes for this summer.”

Aside from books, Paul mentioned that the Upshur County Public Library has a tech tutor that people can schedule appointments with. They have helped grandparents with new technology such as iPads, Kindle Fires, cell phones, etc. Catherine noted she has also assisted several individuals with technology questions. The libraries also have books on CDs, eBooks and audio books available. Vice President of Marketing/Public Relations/Foundation of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Lisa Wharton, told Paul that their audio books could be good for the residents of the hospital’s nursing home facility. The Upshur County Public Library also has a meeting room that can comfortably fit and socially distance 63 people, Paul noted.

The Norkos are eager to build a variety of relationships within the community to increase engagement and interest back in the library system. Catherine expressed that the library isn’t considered as important as it once used to be, and they’re hoping to bring just a little bit of that back into the Upshur community.

Paul also thanked the Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur for their previous $5,000 donation to the Upshur County Public Library for landscaping.

In other club news, Wharton noted that 150 people were vaccinated through Community Care’s vaccine clinic at the West Virginia Strawberry Festival. St. Joseph’s also offered vaccinations for individuals age 12 and up at the Buckhannon-Upshur High School on Wednesday, May 18. Additionally, through their partnership with Rotary, St. Joseph’s Hospital has vaccinated over 10,000 people at their clinics located at the Brushy Fork Event Center.

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