The history of public libraries in America is a story of community as much as it is the availability of free books to read. From the beginning, libraries have, according to a History of Public Libraries provided access to information by “placing public benefit at the center of their work and continually adapting strategies to meet changing public needs over time.”
Darren Hoerner brings that historic commitment to his new position as Director of the Lopez Island Public Library, a commitment nurtured by years in library outreach and community response.
“My goal,” he said recently, “is to understand the community’s interests, explore how the library can meet those needs, evaluate the resources we have, and then develop services to meet those needs.”
Passionate about libraries and their role in the community for much of his adult life, Hoerner remembers his first visit to a public library.
“I was in the second grade and our class took a field trip to the local library, literally blocks from my home but where I had never been,” he recalled. “I was hooked from the minute I walked in. We were shown a room full of books and it blew my mind! Hundreds of books and I was going to be able to take some home, for free, bring them back and get more.
“It was a sense of wonder I’ve never forgotten. And it’s that sense I hope our patrons experience on every visit to their library.”
It’s not surprising that libraries face tough times these days. The proliferation of technology has presented new challenges and forced libraries to examine how to meet the community’s needs.
Hoerner knows those challenges firsthand. He has worked with small, rural libraries in Louisiana and Mississippi where he helped staff introduce new services to address local needs and interests. However, it was his work with the Global Libraries Program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that brought home the vital role libraries play in a community, and the problems they face with accessibility and staying relevant in this age of rapidly developing technology.
Despite periods of historic inequality, the ability to access free information remains a core ideal of what it means to be an American citizen. Hoerner explained that in 1997, when the internet was relatively young, less than 20% of all libraries in the U. S. offered internet connectivity. Now, that number is ubiquitous in libraries.
“Accessibility in rural areas is still problematic,” he added, noting that some Lopezians have neither the opportunity nor resources to get online. To combat that lack, the Lopez library offers Wi-Fi hot spots that enable patrons to access the internet from their homes.
Despite contemporary challenges, the new director of Lopez Island Library is thankful for the overwhelming support the community has shown.
“The support of the property tax that keeps us funded is incredibly heart-warming and we could not manage without it. Unfortunately, since the amount of that tax is capped it can be difficult keeping up with inflation, and we have to make choices about what we can focus on.” Hoerner is relying on the community for that guidance and sees his job as interpreting and implementing the changes they would like to see.
To that end, he stressed how his door is always open and encourages residents to share their ideas.
“We all know when we walk into a thriving library,” he shared. “There’s an energy unlike any other, and I want every patron to experience the inherent awe and excitement of a library.
“It’s all about bringing minds to life,” he added, “and I’m excited about the opportunity to do that on Lopez.”
Lopezians can reach the new director at firstname.lastname@example.org.