| 2014 Q3 | story by AMANDA SHULTZ & SCOTT D. SCHULTZ | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
When asked about the roots of her passion for the library, Kathy Johnston replied with eyes shining, “For me, it’s the patrons, and when you find something they really like.” Johnston’s interest in libraries was first sparked in high school when she took a library science class. Her interest grew, and she began working at the Baldwin Library between 1977-1978. She became the library director in 1986, serving in that capacity ever since. This passion and experience gave Johnston the foundation to lead the library’s recent expansion effort.
Becky McMillen, library Board of Trustees member, is quick to sing in Johnston’s praise.
“The library wouldn’t be here without Kathy,” McMillen said. “Kathy is a wonderful listener and she makes [kids] feel the library is a safe, welcoming place to be.”
McMillen’s husband, Danny McMillen agrees with her assessment.
“No matter how busy Kathy is, she’s going to take the time to help patrons,” Danny said.
The McMillens have lived in the Baldwin area since 1967, and have served the library in various capacities over the years. Becky has served as president of the Friends of the Library, a group that was founded to support and promote the library. She is currently on the Board of Trustees. Danny is a member of Friends of the Library and both Danny and Becky were on the library expansion committee.
Becky is well known in the community for her role as the library’s “Story Lady.” As the story lady, she was in charge of children’s programming including the Summer Reading Program for more than 20 years, first as a volunteer and then as a staff member. When asked about her desire to be involved with the public library, Becky replied, “I love children and I love books so the combo was a real plus for me.” She also stated, “I feel strongly about the idea of a free public library. It’s a place for everybody.”
The library began as a single shelf of 75 books located in the city hall in 1916, according to Johnston. “You’d ask the city clerk to check out a book,” Danny explained. The collection of books grew until it occupied roughly 600-900 square feet in city hall. The library outgrew the space and was moved into its current building in 1992. The building was financed through a bond issue and was paid off five years later through community sales taxes.
The recent expansion project was decades in the making. According to Johnston, the need for increased storage space was recognized from the beginning, as the original library wasn’t designed to include any storage space. Due to the lack of storage space, the librarians packed their shared office, and volunteers from the children’s programs had to transport storage items each week. However, the need for expansion was placed on the back burner for many years due to funding. The board revisited the issue in 2002 and began putting aside a percentage of the tax revenue to fund a future expansion.
Becky recalls the ball really got rolling several years ago when the city council proposed a new Quality of Life Sales tax, to include things such as public parks, streets and the library. Baldwin City voters approved the tax after it was placed on the voting ballot.
“After the tax passed, then we knew we were going to be able to do it,” Becky said.
After the tax had been in effect, Friends of the Library, Board of Trustees and Expansion Committee convened to discuss making the expansion a reality. Susan Butell, member of the expansion committee, wrote a letter to the city council that led to the council allocating $500,000 for the library expansion.
“It [the library] wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for taxpayers,” Danny said. He also recognizes the stewardship of Johnston and the board.
“They have always been very frugal with the taxpayers’ money,” Danny said.
Funding also came from Friends of the Library. The group donated $25,000 to be used for the expansion, and individual members also donated funds and furnishings.
The expansion began in November 2013 and was completed in late spring 2014. Jay Zimmerschied was the architect, and the contractor was Fritzel Construction. The expansion added 3,417 square feet to the original 6,000 square foot library, increasing its size by more than 50 percent. The library stored books and equipment at the fire department, public works building and city hall throughout the expansion process.
The planning of the project was a collaborative process, which included the Board of Trustees, Friends of the Library, Johnston and the expansion committee. The features of the expansion included an expanded entryway, the Kansas Room, which is a reading room that houses the library’s collection of Kansas and local history resources, a beautiful adult reading area with large windows, an expanded children’s area, a built-in book drop, additional front desk space, a family restroom, a new kitchen, new heat and air systems, a new roof, an expanded activity room which can be reserved at no charge, new countertops and floor in the office, separate storage areas for the city council, activity room and general library storage.
Equipment was purchased and added to the activity room for council meetings, which included microphones, tables, a flat screen TV, a projector and screen.
The library currently has seven employees and approximately 10 volunteers.
“I can’t say enough about the staff. The hours that the volunteers put in are unbelievable. If it weren’t for all the volunteers we could not be open the hours we are open,” Becky said. “One of the most amazing things to me was that Kathy and her staff kept the library open through the whole construction project.”
According to the McMillens, Anne Walker, chairperson of Friends of the Library, and her husband, Mac Walker, were highly involved in the oversight of the construction process. They went every day to supervise the progress and field questions from the architect and builders.
According to Johnston, the Baldwin Library is part of a consortium of more than 40 libraries in the state of Kansas, and is able to fulfill many book requests from patrons. The library has seen a dramatic increase in the number of book requests from member libraries. Also, the library is now open an additional hour on Saturdays.
Storage items have been moved out of the office into the new storage room, and the staff now has space to work on projects. The addition of the Kansas Room has allowed for a larger young adult section. The librarians have discarded VHS tapes in favor of DVDs, in which two to three are added to the collection per week. This helped create space for the large print books to be moved to the front of the library where they will be more accessible.
The library has recently purchased two computers and started a new “seed exchange program.” Gardeners can take seeds to start their garden and bring seeds back at the end of the season for others to use. Free classes will soon be offered on topics related to Baldwin City history.
Although the vast majority of the expansion is complete, a few things remain to be completed. The library still has a “wish list,” which includes items such as comfortable seating for the Kansas Room, installation of ceiling fans and various items for the children’s room and office. A Friends of the Library member will soon be donating a refrigerator for the kitchen. The open house date is to be determined. ■