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Residents voice opinions on future of the Bemidji Public Library

About 15 people attended a meeting on Thursday to discuss their hopes for the future of the Bemidji Public Library.

Ideas ranged from increasing the selection of books on tape and CD to starting a mentoring program to help children improve their reading skills. And, being open on Sundays.

Library consultant Mark Ranum was tapped by the Kitchigami Regional Library System board to facilitate public meetings and compile surveys gauging the public's desires for the future of its libraries. Public comment is being taken as the Kitchigami board begins is strategic planning process, he said.

Meetings are planned in each of the Kitchigami cities that have a library. Thursday's meeting in Bemidji was the third - and it drew the most people to date, Ranum said.

While surveys are available for the public to evaluate the library's current offerings and what users would like to see changed in the future, Ranum said the public meetings also are an important part of the process.

They "actually put a face in front of you" and offer the opportunity to engage in a dialogue, he said.

Ranum, also the director of the Plum Creek Library System in southwestern Minnesota, gave a brief presentation and then took suggestions and answered questions from those in attendance.

Several times he told those in attendance that his job is to compile their hopes for the future, regardless of what currently is happening.

He also stressed that he was taking suggestions based on the Bemidji Public Library and not necessarily the Kitchigami system as a whole.

Mary Harding of Bemidji kicked off the discussion phase of the meeting by asking about literacy programs and whether Ranum was aware of libraries that help people learn to read.

Ranum said adult basic education programs often take the lead in literacy movements, but there are some libraries that offer literacy assistance.

"More importantly for libraries ... it's not about basic literacy, but functional literacy," he said.

Illiteracy is the inability to read or write simple sentences. Functional illiteracy refers to the inability to use reading and writing skills efficiently in everyday life.

If a library wished to address illiteracy in its communities, it could advertise the help it offers through marketing or online, Ranum said, explaining that it typically is metropolitan libraries that offer illiteracy programs.

Beltrami County Commissioner Jim Heltzer said the library also should make sure it is not duplicating efforts already in place through local cities, the county or schools. Otherwise, taxpayers would be paying twice for the same service, he said.

Ranum said it is not uncommon for libraries to keep contact information handy for other groups that offer programs that tie in to library services. For instance, a library may not offer a literacy program, but adult education may. When customers inquire about such assistance, the librarian would tell them that he or she is not equipped to help, but he or she can get them in touch with someone who can, he explained.

Related to illiteracy, those in attendance talked about early-elementary students they knew who could barely read. They mentioned the possibility of working as mentors or tutors to help children improve their reading skills.

They also discussed how the library could appeal to school children in the spring to draw them into the library throughout the summer.

Ranum agreed, saying that children who read throughout the summer retain their learning better from the previous school year and enter school in the fall better prepared.

Changing subjects, Heltzer said he wanted to know how the library responds to changing technology. He drives an older vehicle with a tape player, he said, and likes to listen to books on tape, not on CD.

"I think a lot of people in the country are driving older cars," he said.

Ranum said it was a good point. If a library embraces the idea of offering books in a variety of methods, there will be an extra cost for obtaining a new release as a book on tape, book on CD, a downloadable book for MP3 players and the actual hardcover edition.

"We need to figure out where that is at on the priority list," he said.

The work of the library's volunteers was mentioned quite a bit during the meeting.

Scotty Tesar of Bemidji told Ranum that volunteers previously were able to check books in and out, but have since been disallowed from doing so due to privacy issues.

She recalled a time when a woman drove 30 miles to the library and the books she wanted had not been yet been routed, and she was unable to take them with her.

"I can still see her face," Tesar said.

Ranum said he was glad she brought that up. As a librarian, it is a good discussion to have, he said.

"Without volunteers almost every library in the Minnesota would shut down," he said.

Other ideas for the library included:

-- an expanded selection of materials for the consumer wishing to explore possible purchases.

-- delivering materials to people who are homebound or in nursing homes.

-- offering training programs for those not familiar with computers.

-- improving and expanding the library's technological offerings.

-- being open on Sundays.

Anyone interested in taking part in the dialogue about the future of the Bemidji Public Library and the Kitchigami Regional Library System may pick up a survey at library or go online to

Ranum said he hopes to not only receive feedback from those who use the library, but also from those who do not.

Additionally, he would like children and teens to take part, he said.

"We're really hoping to get some response from the under-18 group," he said. "Take a survey to school; bring it to class."