Punxsy library keeping up with the times

It's not your father's Punxsutawney Memorial Library anymore.

"Unless you're bothering someone else, we won't shush someone," Library Director Coral Ellshoff said. "We hope that if someone hasn't visited the library in quite some time, they come visit and check out all of the changes that have taken place."

While there are many changes going on at the library, located at the Mahoning East Civic Complex, another thing that has changed is the public's perceptions of a library in the modern world.

"There are two different approaches to libraries: One is they're obsolete, and the second is they're very important and evolving," Ellshoff said.

Ellshoff said one of the most important missions of a library is to promote literacy in the community, which can be accomplished through computer resources, children's activities and adult book clubs, as well as offering a wide variety of reading resources, including books, magazines and audio books.

"I think this is a great opportunity for me to get things done, focusing on the library's image as a literacy center," she said.

A library should also be a place where reading and finding information should be enjoyable, which is the focus of the library's strategic plan.

"There are a lot of bricks and mortar, nitty-gritty sort of stuff we're doing right now," Ellshoff said. "We're also doing fun stuff, where people will start to associate themselves with having fun at the library."

The library board is focusing on marketing, generating more stories in the news, developing a better online presence, advocacy and outreach.
It also seeks partnerships with community organizations, such the Rotary Club, which Ellshoff described as "hugely supportive," as well as the Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society and the Weather Discovery Center.

Currently, the library is promoting initiatives for youth, adults and seniors.

"We want to get more of these populations in the door, and we want them to see clearly what the library can do for them," Ellshoff said.

People are finding other reasons to come in the door that have nothing to do with books or computers, she said, and that's one of the key reasons why libraries must learn to adapt to a changing world.

"We're always going to have other sources," Ellshoff said. "We're not a print-only society anymore. If we continue to think of the library as a print-only source, then we'll die off."

In terms of technology, Ellshoff said the library encourages Twitter or Facebook users to check those accounts at the library.

"If libraries didn't have those things, there would be a digital divide," she said. "Poor and middle class people wouldn't have access to the same things that rich people do."

The library's Web site — www.punxsutawneylibrary.org — is pretty basic right now, offering hours, some history and names of staff and board members, Ellshoff said.

The library hopes to have its digital card catalog system updated, along with an online catalog.

"By the end of the year, people will be able to sit at home in their pajamas and see if we have the latest Nora Roberts book and come down and check it out," she said.

Youngsters may not be into the latest Nora Roberts book, but the library is keeping their interests in mind, such as starting an after-school recess program focused on reading and activities. This program also allows children who attend different schools or grades to get to know each other.

Refurbishment of the children's section of the library is also underway, something that would not be possible without funds earmarked by organizations that donated money just for that purpose.

"We're basically opening the space up," Ellshoff said. "Presently, it is set up like a mini-adult library with stacks dividing up the space. Kids don't work like that in the same browsing sort of way."

The space is most important for programs, where kids are active and move around, or quiet areas.

"We're going to have a few cozy areas where kids can sit and read, read with their parents or sit and talk," Ellshoff said. "We also have a games computer for kids to play in the new area, which makes it more of a welcoming space, rather than a place where books are stored."

A donation from the Inner Circle should also serve an amusing purpose.
After all, the children's portion of the library is also the home-away-from-Gobbler's-Knob for Punxsutawney Phil.

"It will have three groundhogs with their faces cut out so the kids can put their faces in and have their picture taken," Ellshoff said.

Young people can again look forward to summer reading program, "One World Many Stories," for children and "You Are Here" for teens.
"We're hoping that we can pull off a teen program this summer," Ellshoff said.

She said last year's summer reading program saw high enrollment — thanks to a lot more promotion compared to past years — with 1,200 books read by participants.

"I'm hoping for this year that we can double the amount of books read to 3,000, especially if we can get teens and adults to participate in the summer reading program, too," Ellshoff said.

A monthly book club for adults is set to begin in March.

While the library's funding — which pays for books, utilities and salaries — is often tight, the library is looking beyond that to achieve its goals.

"It has more to do with planning than funding," Ellshoff said. "It's really a matter of putting our community minds together to make it happen. We don't have a lot of money left over for programming, so we're finding ways to do it on a shoestring budget, and that's the way it'll have to be for a while."

Last summer, Ellshoff said that despite threats of funding cuts, she and the library board saw that there was nowhere to go but up.

"One of the key things that the library board emphasized to me when I was hired as the librarian was they wanted to see progress," she said. "We're getting there. It can't be done overnight."