This post is an article from the Summer 2018 issue of the OYAN Review and has been edited slightly for publication on the blog. It was written by Kristen Williams at the Athena Public Library.
Athena is a town of 1,300 people nestled in the wheat fields near the Blue Mountains by the Washington border. There has been a public library in Athena for more than 100 years, and almost 15 years ago the town came
together to build a beautiful new library.
Our new building has some of the only public meeting space in town, and it has a cozy reading room with soft chairs in front of a welcoming fireplace. And, unlike the old building, it has dedicated spaces for children and young adults. Athena is understandably proud of the new library building. In fact, even though it’s been nearly a decade and a half since the building was completed, when someone new comes to town, you’re likely to hear people asking them if they’ve “seen the new library.”
Life in a rural library presents some challenges, such as a limited budget. We are an autonomous city library, but we are also a member of Umatilla County Special Library District. Through this county-wide taxing district, we receive half of our annual funding and also some programming and cataloging support. In addition, we are a part of the Sage Library consortium. Sage has 77 member libraries in 15 counties in Eastern and Central Oregon. Being a part of Sage offers very tangible benefits to our customers in terms of access to resources we couldn’t provide on our own.
I started as Library Director in November of 2017 and was able to work side by side with the previous Director until her retirement. That time of transition was so good, both for me and for the town. There was a lot concern about the previous librarian’s retirement. Change is difficult for library users of all ages and can be especially difficult in a library with only one full-time librarian. The time of overlap was useful in reassuring customers that the library would remain open and that, for the most part, the things they loved about it would stay the same.
There has been a thriving program for children for a long time. We have a long-standing toddler storytime on Monday mornings that is well attended. We have an excellent collaborative relationship with the local preschool that helps us reach the younger kids in our community, and we have a great relationship with our local elementary school. There is no librarian in our school district, so last school year I provided library instruction at the elementary school library, and I’m hoping to do something similar this year.
A main part of my goal planning for this year is our lack of teen programming. We have a core group of teens who use the library on a regular basis, but I’d really like to build on that. I started working toward this goal by including teens more intentionally in our Summer Reading Program. We have offered some library activities and have also created some volunteer opportunities for teens within our elementary and preschool programs. The hope is that these opportunities will help build a feeling of ownership in the library. At the beginning of this upcoming school year, we will launch a teen advisory board to give teens a voice in programming, collections, and leadership in our community. We’re also planning to letting them redecorate the teen space. We hope to use this core group of teens to help us better serve the other kids in our community.
I feel like a big part of this first year as Library Director has been about getting to know the community in my new role. I have lived here in town for ten years and have fairly deep connections, but telling someone you’ve lived in a small town like this one for ten years is the same as telling them you moved to town yesterday. I’m still introducing myself to people and trying to ease in to new ideas. I do regularly remind myself to slow down and not to force things. Athena Public Library is in a season of growth and change, and it’s really exciting to plan for the future.