One year ago this month, the Gering Library Foundation was formed. In a meeting on Tuesday that is open to the public, members of the foundation will reflect on their work over the last year, as well as their hope to make the Gering Public Library a “destination for generations.”
“Being a destination — that’s just something that Gering does well,” foundation member Penny Businga said. Explaining that while the community isn’t known for industry or business, she said it is known for its tourism offerings including Legacy of the Plains Museum and Scotts Bluff National Monument.
One of the hopes of the Foundation in the coming year is to get farther along in the process of either heavily renovating the current library or building a new one.
“We need a new library,” library board member Suzanne Myers said. “We need additional space at minimum.”
According to Myers, an architectural study of the current library suggested that to meet the communities needs, it would need be at least 18,000 square feet. Right now, it is less than 12,000, library director Diane Downer said.
The need for a bigger library is not a new one. Myers cited a comprehensive plan put forth by the city in 1995.
“It said, ‘The library will need to be expanded in the next five years,” Myers said. “That was in 1995.”
The plan went on to say that finding available land adjacent to the current facility would be difficult, and it has been. Myers said the foundation is ready to help with the purchase of land when they find the right place, but not unless everyone is on board. She explained that they want the support of the city council before moving forward.
“Finances are tough and the council members I’ve visited with are supportive of a library — they think libraries are great, but it’s a question of how do we pay for it?” she said.
Some may argue that libraries have gone by the wayside and it isn’t worth the investment, especially with the modern Lied Scottsbluff Public Library nearby.
“The Gering kids can’t walk to the Scottsbluff library,” Myers said.
If a new library is built, they will try to provide things that are not available at Scottsbluff’s library, so that both have unique offerings.
“There are so many things we could do with the library that aren’t currently available in the twin city community,” Myers said. “We want to focus on things that are unique and draw people in.”
It’s important to remember, Myers said, that libraries are much more than just bookshelves. For Tom Swan, treasurer of the foundation, having access to a library before the internet was widespread meant the he was able to better prepare for jobs by researching companies.
“Now, so many job applications are online,” Swan said, but even today there are many who don’t have a computer at home or access to reliable internet.
Library member Michelle Moore said that libraries are also a staple for many because of the programming they offer. Two of her children participate in the Gering Library’s LEAP program, which is a weekly class devoted to teaching elements of STEM to children before they set foot in a school classroom.
“I think the early childhood opportunities that they are providing here are exceptional,” Businga said. “There’s a lot more kids that could get involved, but space is an issue.”
Parents are required to attend the LEAP classes with their children. With several activities going on at a time, even 15 kids and their parents can be too many for the space in the basement.
In addition to a lack of space, the current building also has issues with accessibility.
“That impacts more than just checking out library books,” Businga said. “The community room for the town is inaccessible. If your non-profit needs an expensive place to have a meeting, you may not even be able to use it because it isn’t accessible.”
Her grandson is in a wheelchair and is unable to get downstairs for the youth programs. When he has attended in the past, librarians have made every effort to move activities upstairs so he can be involved, but the space there is limited as well.
Although there is a chairlift that goes from the upper floor to the basement, it hasn’t been consistently operational in over two years. Downer said they hope to have it fixed in 2020, but there will need to be more steps taken to ensure that the library is available to anyone who needs it.
“The library is the heart of the community,” Businga said. “It’s the one place that is open to every single citizen. The library belongs to everyone.”
Which is why the public is encouraged to attend Tuesday’s meeting at 4 p.m. in the city hall council chambers.
“We couldn’t even have it in the community room at the library because it isn’t accessible,” Businga said.
Members of the city council and city departments have been invited to attend.
“Whatever happens to the library impacts all of those people too,” Businga said. “We don’t want to be going off in directions that are not commonly accepted.”
The foundation believes that collaboration will be vital if the needs of the community are truly going to be met.
“Working together is better, even if it takes forever,” Businga said. “But forever is taking a really long time.”