Johnson County library makes plans for future

A growing population has county library officials searching for answers as to how they will best serve the community’s evolving needs.

Staff and board members of the Johnson County Public Library are reviewing a recently completed study of the library system’s five facilities and preparing their own list of renovation, expansion and construction projects that they believe are feasible to accomplish in the coming years.

Options suggested by the consultant ranged from the simple — heating, air conditioning and lighting upgrades at the Trafalgar branch — to the costly and almost certainly unlikely, such as adding another library branch. Library officials emphasized that no funding decisions have been made yet and the plans are still in the process of being created.

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Since 2015, the number of people visiting the library and checking out items — both hard-copy books and digital downloads — has grown. More people are using meeting rooms and feedback from patrons is that they want their library to also serve as a community hub for events and gatherings. The number of digital downloads has jumped significantly, rising by 95 percent last year after the library added new ways for patrons to download items ranging from magazines to movies, director Lisa Lintner said.

Being able to meet these needs is what has led the library to study its options for growth, Lintner said.

The library board is continuing its review of the study, and plans to produce its own project list later this year. Options that are being considered at this point include renovations to the Franklin branch, an expansion of the Clark-Pleasant branch and a relocation of the White River branch.

But library officials are also proceeding with caution, remembering the proposed $30 million library in downtown Franklin that was rejected overwhelmingly by voters in 2012. None of the projects the library is considering now would come close to approaching that scale, Lintner said.

This month, board members learned about the options they have for borrowing money to fund any renovations, expansion or new construction and what residents would pay in their taxes. Consultants told library officials that the maximum amount of money the district could borrow is upward of $30 million.

Board president Gretchen Beaman said no spending decisions have been made, and none are being considered. But officials wanted the information to make informed decisions about upcoming projects, she said. Decisions about which projects will go forward will depend on the costs and how much money officials feel is appropriate to borrow without overburdening taxpayers, Beaman said.

One key area of feedback that the library has received from residents is a desire to use the library as a community gathering place for events, Lintner said.

From 2015 to 2017, the number of people using meeting and community rooms rose from 12,000 to 13,000, with the number of patrons attending programs hovering around 50,000 each year that time-span. And, last year, the library surpassed 1 million items being checked out or downloaded, she said.

The idea of a library as a gathering place — rather than just somewhere to go and pick up books — was a key part of feedback given by residents during the study, Lintner said. That means any renovations or expansions will focus on making sure to add space for people to meet in, she said.

Besides building upgrades, the library board will consider other recommendations from the study, such as an in-depth analysis of the library’s collection and finding other ways to serve the Bargersville area, Lintner said.

Officials want to determine what types and genres of books visitors want most, and getting more of those, while reducing the items that aren’t as popular, she said.

Libraries have a limited amount of space for books and they want to make sure what is available matches what the community is interested in reading. One trend that they have noticed is an increased interest in fiction and a drop in non-fiction, Lintner said.

Another option the library will explore to reach out to undeserved areas is Redbox-like systems that would allow library patrons to pickup, check-out and drop off books at remote locations, Lintner said. This would allow the library to expand services in areas such as Bargersville or northeast Johnson County at a much lower cost than building and staffing a new facility.

The next step is for the board to review and approve the study, and then begin discussions on ways to implement the parts that are feasible, Lintner said.

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Here’s a look at some key statistics on how the Johnson County Public Library has been used in past years:

Number of items checked out or downloaded

2017: 1,048,422

2015: 971,2323

Number of visitors

2017: 415,388

2015: 399,066

People attending programs

2017: 47,987

2015: 50,778

People using meeting rooms

2017: 13,105

2015: 12,042