Library connects Whatcom County readers with each other and the world

In nearly 125 years of operation, the Bellingham Public Library has grown to become one of the busiest libraries for communities our size in the nation. In 2014, almost 840,000 visits were made to the library, and our patrons checked out 1.6 million items. More than 16,000 children and families attended 431 story times.

But our numbers only tell part of the story. A recent Saturday at the Central Library provides another vivid example of how much Bellinghamsters love their library:

•  The main floor bustled with people, book browsers filling the aisles, librarians helping at service desks, every public computer in use and every table occupied;

•  A steady stream buzzed in and out to pick up holds. In our SkillShare space, local authors shared their work with each other;

•  Dozens lined up downstairs for tax help, while many more waited for legal advice, two free services provided by AARP Tax Aide and LAW Advocates volunteers;

•  Our children’s area was another hive of activity, youth of all ages selecting materials, reading with parents, playing and laughing with each other in our Early Learning Center;

•  People were reading, chatting and using their computers on the mezzanine, where two young men even found space to gently practice martial arts moves;

•  Greetings, smiles and “I loved that book!” were exchanged throughout the building, underscoring the sense of community many of us felt. A patron remarked to me: “It is actually awe-inspiring to be here today.”

There is nothing quiet or boring about our library, especially on a Saturday in winter! And that’s just the way it should be for a service organization dedicated to connecting our community with each other and the world.

Strategic directions

Creating thriving gathering places is an important part of our mission. We are halfway through our strategic plan for 2013-2017, completed two years ago with extensive public input. We are making good progress on our four strategic directions:

READ: Inspire Bellingham to read, view and listen. Bellingham Public Library will become our community’s favorite place to borrow books, films and music, with enhanced opportunities for reading, viewing and listening.

LEARN: Promote lifelong learning from birth through adulthood. Establish the library as the leading community center for early learning through educational play spaces, programs and materials. Offer programs on issues of interest to the community.

MEET: Create thriving spaces where the community connects, accesses library resources, and shares their stories. Improve public access to our libraries by restoring open hours. Improve our virtual presence for those who access library resources online. Replace the aging Central Library, the hub of our library system.

DISCOVER: Provide library collections that introduce ideas, build skills, support lifelong learning and spark creativity. Provide more library materials for the public, including materials in new and emerging formats. Provide easier access to digital collections.

Read, learn, meet and discover: using these strategies together, we are achieving our mission.

Changing needs

We join libraries nationwide in trying new ways and new places to deliver services. For example, our SkillShare program offers free activities led by community members, located right in the heart of the Central Library. This winter we are hosting Russian language classes, author meet-ups, tai chi and more! You’ll also see us offering “pop-up libraries” at community gathering places.

The most frequent request we receive, however, is for our own buildings to be open more hours. Our resources are limited as the city of Bellingham, the source of most of our funding, continues recovering from the recession. We are grateful to Mayor Kelli Linville and the Bellingham City Council for modest but steady increases in funding to keep our libraries open additional hours each year. Later this spring, we’ll announce new hours at our Fairhaven and Barkley branch libraries.

The City of Bellingham is committed to fostering a strong sense of place and supporting people-to-people connections, and the Bellingham Public Library plays an essential role in meeting these commitments. We invite you to experience the many ways our library connects our community with each other and the world. Visit us in person, or online at bellinghampubliclibrary.org.