Public libraries across the country, both large and small, have struggled with reduced revenue and keeping up with technology. But one small library has shown that where there is a will there is a way. Beaumont Library District is “the little library district that could!”
With a population of less than a thousand, the city of Beaumont, California was a sleepy little place when it was founded in 1912 and it remained that way for most of the twentieth century. Beaumont Library District, one of only a dozen special district libraries in the state, was actually founded a year earlier than the city and had the fortune of receiving a grant from Andrew Carnegie that financed a library building in 1914.
Beaumont had over 5,000 people by 1970 and Beaumont Library District, with a 60-square mile service area including the city and unincorporated areas like Cherry Valley, also grew by doubling the space of the original Carnegie building. Although Beaumont had over 11,000 residents by 2000, its biggest growth took place from 2000 to 2015 with the city exceeding 40,000 and the library district population exceeding 70,000, making it the fastest growing area in California during that time period.
Unfortunately, with the restrictions imposed by Proposition 13 in 1978 and the additional loss of funding through the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF) that permanently took tax dollars from counties, municipalities, and special districts to replace lost school funding during the economic downturn in 1992 —Beaumont Library District, like many other governmental units, has had to make do with flat funding for decades.
During the past 15 years, the rapid housing growth has added to property tax revenues, but the lack of impact fees has meant that Beaumont Library District has had to increase the scope of its service from a facility that is now much too small. Director Clara DiFelice, the library administrator since 1990, has done a masterful job of maintaining operations, reaching out to the community, and using new technology while confronting the serious funding losses during her tenure.
Beaumont Library District was positively featured in 2008 and again in 2010 by Library Journal for its progressive strategies for “grappling with a huge influx of new users.” Per Ms. DiFelice, “until 2008, our facilities were fine for the size of community we served…Now someone entering the facility has to wonder why it seems so undersized (especially in the area of parking).”
Despite a limited budget, Beaumont Library District responded to increased demand by implementing advanced technologies in 2010 before many even larger libraries did. “Self-checkout allowed us to handle a 150 percent increase in circulation over two years that we wouldn’t have had the space to handle otherwise,” says DiFelice. The library was able to remove its circulation desk and replace it entirely with an RFID self-checkout and self-return circulation system that included mechanized sorting equipment to streamline the re-shelving process while also providing self-pickup of holds material and personalized “out-from-behind-the-desk” reference service through “Information Concierges” using wireless radios and headsets.
Though the recession eventually led to the elimination of seven-days-a-week service, Beaumont Library District chose to eliminate hours on Wednesday, considered the slowest business day by retailers, in order to preserve weekend hours, which are the most desired by the public. Throughout the post-recession years, the library continued to tweak its Plan of Service and engaged an architect to help envision a new renovated and expanded Beaumont Library District facility. Blueprints were developed for a 48,000-square foot structure with more space for the collection, parking, public restrooms, community meeting rooms, and public computers.
In 2012, the library received a $90,000 federal grant to purchase and equip its Ready-to-Read Van. Beaumont Library had already made a name for itself as a Family Place Library dedicated to providing programs for the literacy development of preschool children. The “R2R” Van, with it specially selected collection of more than 2,000 books and play kits is now in its fifth year of operation. The vehicle continues its regular circuit of visiting home childcare providers, daycare centers, Head Start classes, and community locations where library staff provide engaging and educational story times with the intent of ensuring that children can enter kindergarten equipped with the skills they need to learn and be successful in school.
Perhaps the biggest recent changes at Beaumont Library District have been in the area of expanded technology. One-Gigabit high-speed Internet bandwidth was added through a California State Library broadband grant in 2015. This “Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California” (CENIC) funding connects the library to the high capacity, 3,800-mile CalREN network that provides service to the UC, Cal State, and California community college campuses, as well as to major private universities and public school systems.
Beaumont Library District is one of only 75 public library jurisdictions that participated in Phase I of the CENIC grants, representing just a third of California public libraries. Ninety percent of the installation costs for the 1-Gigabit connection came from the grant. In addition, even though the service is exponentially better, the monthly cost to the library has been reduced by 80% because of shared costs and federal rebates.
As a result of the implementation of this high-performance line, the library now has 4,000 times the Internet speed, compared to its former 256K connection, to supply its public computers and wi-fi service! Not only can library cardholders print from library computers, they can print wirelessly from their own devices whether inside the library or from home!
The increased bandwidth also gives faster access to web-based resources, including the library’s website, which was revamped in 2016. It features a variety of new access points, including an eMaterials page that allows remote checkout of eMedia from the Axis360 library, indie and small publisher titles from Enki Library, eAudiobooks from OneClickDigital, and eMagazines through Zinio.
Beaumont Library District is one of only 75 public library jurisdictions that participated in Phase I of the CENIC grants, representing just a third of California public libraries. Ninety percent of the installation costs for the 1-Gigabit connection came from the grant.
Other tabs allow users to check the online catalog to place holds or to renew items via their “My Account” link.
A calendar highlights current and upcoming programs and there are specific tabs for adult, teen, and children’s offerings, as well as links to the popular Veterans Resource Center, the Local History page, and informational sections on how to get a library card, use a public computer, join the Friends of the Beaumont Library District, or find out more about the services offered.
Though a renovated and expanded building may be years away, plans are underway to seek public support for the bond issue that would be necessary for that $15 to $20 million project. A fledgling “Growing the Library” Foundation is being formed, surveys of public sentiment have been taken, a public “listening tour” is in the initial stages, and it is hoped that success at the ballot box might happen as early as 2017. Do not doubt “the little library district that could!”