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September 04, 2023

Does A Library Need Windows?

By Ron Ackerman

2023 is the year of stories at Hamilton East Public Library. Every month on our blog, we’re featuring a guest writer from our community to share in their own words what the library means to them. We hope these stories will demonstrate that there’s something for everyone at the library, and you belong here. 

Our September library story encourages us to “think again” about a local resource, often taken for granted, in order to discover all the services available at a connected library in a connected community.

“The idea of contributing to this blog seemed exciting when the opportunity was first presented to me. But, my initial excitement quickly morphed into abject fear. To be clear, until recently, I never seriously thought about any library for longer than a nano-second. Afterall, what was there to think about? I normally visited the library when I needed a book, checked the book(s) out using the nifty kiosk, logged the book in Goodreads, and returned it to the drive-up return (hopefully on-time). My library experience was never more than a passing thought because it always seemed to work. No complications—the only function of the library I ever used seemed to be just fine. Sound familiar? Fast forward to 2023. Our library has become an inextricable part of me this year, as I transitioned from not paying attention to the library to being a minor league player in the volunteer corp. I hope this brief post will communicate how our library has made a huge impact on me personally.

“The library is an arena of possibility, opening both a window into the soul and a door onto the world.”
—Rita Dove.

Deciding to volunteer at HEPL would require me to take Dr. Adam Grant’s counsel and “think again” about my experiences with libraries. In my case “thinking again” about HEPL required more than thinking. It required action! Fortunately for me, some very competent people at the library had designed an informational website that opened a window of possibility as big as a department store window at Christmas! The first time I explored the website, I could only spend a few minutes—just enough time to let the cynic in me develop a few questions. Why does anyone need curbside pickup? Don’t we have tax prep companies to handle that need in the community? Who knew about meeting room space at the library? Aren’t seeds the business of a nursery? What is a Teen Zone, and why do we need this? The idea of book clubs seemed appropriate, but seriously, isn’t this a no-brainer for a library? Are there really people in Fishers and Noblesville that need home delivery of books? What is this Niche Academy, and how much could it really help with digital skills? It was evident to me that I had a lot to learn about how a library could “connect” a community and how important that purpose could be to us all.

Let me be very clear, after referencing the website several times this year, I still don’t have a perfect understanding of all the services of the library. But, my little bit of action research (there really is an academic model for this term!) resulted in some second level thinking and action. I applied for a volunteer role at the library this year as my way of “discovering” and “connecting” to the community. After years of finding excuses for why I did not have time for volunteering, I could no longer avoid it. As a believer in the “learn by doing” model, this seemed like a workable approach for me. HEPL was going to impact me in a very real way thanks to HEPL’s Community Engagement Coordinator, Ms. Julia Welzen. The Fishers library was about to become more than a quiet place to read for me.

“Here is where people, one frequently finds, lower their voices and raise their minds.” – Richard Armour

My first experience was the Local Author Fair. Who knew that we had more than 60 local authors, many with national and international reputations? Delivering snacks to their booths and connecting the authors with readers and other would-be writers gave me some instant insight into HEPL’s Guiding Principles: Innovation, Discovery, Equity and Access. In the scope of worldly events, my contribution was at best minimal, but my experience with this community was eye-opening for me. Maybe my own manuscript could find an audience someday! The Local Author Fair certainly was about raising minds, but honestly, it was not very quiet. Plenty of talking and learning and excitement at the FORUM Events Center that day. This fall, I plan to learn a good deal more about the Ignite Studio makerspace.

“Never lose a holy curiosity.” – Albert Einstein

An interesting volunteer opportunity was presented at the end of the school year. It seemed that a Field Trip for about 142 4th grade students was in the works, and volunteers were needed. I thought my teaching experience might fit well with this situation, so I raised my hand (figuratively, that is). The staff asked me to help out by demonstrating the automated material handling machine the library uses for book returns. It turns out there was more to returning books than the little slot on the side of the building! The teachers and the students became active participants in the demonstrations. In groups of 8-10 students, each student picked out a book, put the book in the system, and intently followed their book as the various computer stations sent it to the proper bin. Later, a staff member would re-shelve each book in the library. Who knew that each book has an RFID chip!

Honestly, I was blown away by the number and quality of the questions these students asked. Every single group said something like…”We had no idea the library was so cool!” I walked away with a sense that HEPL was indeed “a connector to ideas and information.” Because the teachers and the staff worked together, I am confident that we have at least 142 more students thinking just a bit more about what a library means for them and the community. One more experience added to my thoughts about “possibilities.”

Talk about impact, have you experienced the Summer Reading Program? Imagine thousands of kids, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others involved in a program to promote reading while the kids are off for the summer. Again, I had no idea about this program and how impactful it is for the community. Thanks to the help I received from several members of the library staff, including Julie Armstrong and Allison Kartman, prizes were awarded for various reading achievements. The genuine happiness, excitement, and sense of accomplishment the children expressed was extremely heartwarming. Many parents expressed to me how much their families looked forward to participating in the Summer Reading Program each year. I had no idea about any of this until now.

Returning to our opening question: does a library need windows? Let me offer a few thoughts on this question. I recently invested a lot of time to read an 800-page biography about Andrew Carnegie, the steelmaker turned philanthropist. Did you know that he funded about 156 libraries in Indiana and more than 1,600 libraries across the U.S. and Europe? Many of these still function today—although several of the original buildings are now used for other civic purposes. Nonetheless, Mr. Carnegie had a few reasons for his interest in libraries. First, he believed that libraries should be accessible to everyone in the community. Second, he believed that local governments must be committed to ongoing support (funding) so that people could rely on their services. Third, Mr. Carnegie believed that the library had to be connected to the community, and he thought that there should be visible evidence of this connection. He insisted that the building should have lots of windows so that the community could sense the openness of the library, welcoming everyone. I am confident that Mr. Carnegie would be proud of HEPL — A Connected Library In a Connected Community.”

About Ron Ackerman:

Ron retired last year after a 40-year career in business and a second career in teaching at the University of Indianapolis. His academic interest in leadership and business strategy is long-standing. In addition to volunteer work at HEPL, he also spends some time volunteering at the Humane Society of Hamilton County. He and Paula have been married for 55 years and are the proud parents of two daughters, Jessica and Nicole, and four grandchildren, Maddie, Griffin, Finn, and Thomas.

Have your own library story to share? Tell us about it here, and we’ll pick a few to be featured on our blog! You can also find storytelling resources and tips here

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