By now you may have heard a conversation or two in the last few months regarding our community library, which is housed in Kimball City Hall. The Great River Regional Library (GRRL), which operates the Kimball branch library, will celebrate 50 years in the Kimball community in 2019. With its beginnings in the city offices nearly five decades ago, what has changed with our library since that time? Many new things and plans for the future as you’ll see below.
• Technology – Technology has changed the use of our library to the point where coming in and browsing for books is only one way to check out library materials. People still like their books but they are browsing the online collection first and then coming in to pick up their books. Like me, they still love holding a book in their hands and looking at pictures while reading to their children, grandchildren or for their own pleasure and entertainment, but they may be using the power of technology and the collection rather than looking through the shelves. While the use of mobile devices and book downloads has changed the dynamics of a local library, the fact is that patrons requesting and checking out books has increased at our library and technology has made that possible. Technology has also increased usage of the library for internet use and computer access that serves everyone. This is important for a local population who doesn’t have access to this technology and services at home.
• Programming – Programming has changed the purpose of our library. Local libraries are no longer a place to just check out books. They are community spaces to learn and meet new people. Our small local library offers many classes, speakers, activities and entertainment options. A few examples include painting classes, “1,000 Books By Kindergarten,” musical entertainment, technology training and the ever-popular “Summer Reading Program Ice Cream Social” and kick-off. Our library is a welcoming meeting ground for young and old located right in our own back yard.
• Serving a Larger Community with More Materials – GRRL is a regional system and partnering with, serving and offering resources to more than 30 communities. Their collection is our collection. Likewise, as a local branch library, Kimball offers services to several residents from the surrounding area. Our patrons cross two counties and 11 ZIP codes and include the townships of Maine Prairie, Kingston, Fairhaven and Forest City as well as the City of Watkins. Our branch also serves patrons from other hometown GRRL branches as they use our library to pick up materials. In turn, these patrons come into Kimball and help our local economy by stopping at our local businesses. Families become familiar with the community and attend our schools. As mayor making frequent stops at the city offices, I am amazed at how many people use the book drop after hours showing the value of our library early in the morning and late in the evening.
• Space Needs – With all the changes mentioned above, our space needs have changed as well. The Kimball Library staff and volunteers have had many conversations with the Kimball City Council for several years about the need for more space. The council has explored many options to help accommodate the growing community needs. This is a serious consideration and topic for the city council and we are supportive in addressing this need. We see the need for our library. We need to provide more space so the library continues to meet the growing needs of our community. At the same time, we need to be respectful of the Kimball Area Historical Society and the hard work they have done to preserve our historic building. Given these concerns, the council has met with several community resources to learn more. These meetings include staff from U.S. Representative Tom Emmer’s office, State Representative Jeff Howe, Great River Regional Library Board and staff and our Kimball Area Friends of the Library. The conclusion? The library has outgrown the current space, the city offices will remain in the city hall and we will continue to work with the Kimball Area Historical Society to care for the historic city hall. Representative Howe helped us identify a State of Minnesota library building matching grant, a bill he sponsored, that may help us make a building project in Kimball a reality. We are learning more about the grant as it is helping guide us in developing a plan that will identify the building space, the resources and support needed to qualify and be awarded these funds.
• Library Building Exploratory Committee – Who is this group working on a library building plan for our community? A small group of concerned citizens, business people, Friends of the Library members, school personnel and area township representatives and residents who value the library. We have met over the summer and the fall in work sessions to 1) Discuss the current library space situation and needs, 2) Identify possible property locations and discuss their feasibility, 3) Consider development needs in the community along with the library needs, 4) Better understand current and future library patron needs, and 5) Move these ideas forward to an actionable plan. We kicked off our time together by learning from a St. Cloud area builder on how a small community building project can happen if everyone works together. And in addition to meeting and planning, this group is also visiting other branch libraries around the area and state to learn as much as we can.
• Vision for the Community Library Building – The committee’s vision for the building location and space is that it serves people of all ages and socio-
economic groups, that it is an open, accessible learning and gathering space, and that the physical space and location are safe, accessible and close to businesses and schools so the community library space complements other economic and community activities. This committee’s plan also recognizes and addresses that the library is only open 20 hours per week, and as a result, how could this space address other community needs. Our plan involves a community space in addition to the library. This community space would be the programming space for the library but would also be designed to be open and accessible for community meetings and family events. I have received questions about the Willow Creek Park Kimball Lion’s shelter meeting these community space needs so why more? Our Lion’s shelter is an important asset in our community and I do not foresee any change to the rental and usage of that building for larger community gatherings. But because of the lack of indoor plumbing for the shelter, it makes winter-month usage more difficult. The library community space is an ideal space for more small-to-medium-sized gatherings. And as many libraries around the state have told us about their own building plans, they only wished they had more space as their current space is in high demand.
As mayor and a library patron, I am excited to see our committee’s enthusiasm for this project. It shows how working together can make a difference. It also shows people of all ages in our community that there are many people who care about our community and its future. What’s next for the group? We are putting together a schedule of community presentations beginning in February and March to share more about the project and to learn more, too. We are gathering stories and feedback from library patrons on what they would like to see in this community library space. We are putting together a fundraising plan for the matching grant. And we are working to finalize the location and building site for the library. You will be hearing more from myself and others on the committee with periodic updates on events, building plans, presentations and opportunities in the Tri-County News over the next several months. I encourage you to ask me questions or contact me with ideas.
As a mother and grandmother, I will close with a personal testimony on what the Kimball branch of the GRRL meant to me and my family. I was a stay-at-home mother of six children. We had little resources, but I would load my kids in a wagon, walk them down to the library for a program or to check out books. It was fun to return home from a library visit and watch them sit and read their new books after spending time meeting other families and discovering new books in the collection. This family outing, this important learning opportunity and this free entertainment was available to me in my own backyard. I look forward to making that possible for generations to come.
Tammy Konz is the mayor of the city of Kimball, local business owner, Kimball Area Friends of the Library member and City of Kimball Library Building Committee member.