Library services provide many benefits to residents

One of the real gems of our community is the Hancock County Public Library.

It’s a place that can literally serve individuals from birth throughout their lives. Over the past year, the HCPL has had some remarkable accomplishments.

In 2014, the HCPL circulated more than 1 million items.

This was a remarkable achievement considering the fact the library district service area is just over 60,000.

Many larger libraries circulate far fewer items than the HCPL does. We can thank an outstanding staff that makes library services appealing to our residents and a public that understands the value a library brings.

Recently, the HCPL received an enormous recognition: No. 5 in the small business category for best places to work in Central Indiana, a contest sponsored by The Indianapolis Star.

It was the only public workplace to be recognized in the three categories: small, medium and large employers. The awards were made based on extensive input from the entire staff and on looking at the creativity and effectiveness of programs to achieve the mission of the employer.

The spirit of collaboration among staff was cited by director David Gray and assistant director Barbara Roark as a driving force in achieving success.

A recent milestone was the retirement of the aging Techmobile and putting into service a “sprinter van” that provides far more versatility in serving those who cannot get to one of the two HCPL libraries.

Books can be carted into nursing homes, day cares, schools and other off-site locations.

This year, I am president of the Indiana Library Federation. Each month, I write a column for FOCUS, a newsletter distributed to libraries (public, institutional and schools) across Indiana. I take every opportunity to share the successes of the HCPL with libraries across the state with the hope that it can inspire other libraries to adopt some of the successful strategies the HCPL leadership and staff use.

The rest of this column is the column I submitted for the May issue of FOCUS, and I want to share it with our community. The project it describes is creative, fun and ambitious.

Our hope is that the Hancock County community will join the fun and support promoting literacy in our commentary.

May is here, and for libraries across the state, that means summer reading is fast-approaching. The literacy programs are our chance to keep children reading through the summer months to avoid loss of reading skills.

However, it is also an opportunity to remind adults that, not only are they modeling behavior when they pick up a book, but reading is enjoyable.

For libraries participating in the national Collaborative Summer Reading Program, 2015 is the summer of superheroes. Yet the most compelling aspect is community heroes, local heroes, people who embody the very definition — striving to make other people’s lives better.

The HCPL will start this year’s summer reading program with a world record attempt. They are looking for 1,000-plus volunteers to set a new Guinness World Records title for “Most People Balancing Books on Their Heads at the Same Time.”

The concept is simple. Can more than a thousand people assemble at the start of summer to balance a book on their heads and walk 5½ yards?

The hope is more complex. Can enough enthusiasm be generated to draw 1,000 people out onto the local football field to put books on their brains?

The goal is not only to set a World Record but to gather donated books to put them in the hands of children who need them.

Enthusiasm comes from believing in the importance of the task. At the HCPL, parents are encouraged, strongly urged even, to participate in storytime activities at the library.

Why? While children will model the librarian, parents are the rockstars in a child’s life. If a parent will sing, dance or move their fingers to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” children will mimic and develop early literacy skills.

Why should we ever stop modeling for children? If we believe that literacy is essential, and volunteerism strengthens our community, then prove it. This is the summer for all of us to be superheroes or, more importantly, community heroes.

Beverly Gard served 24 years in the Indiana Senate before retiring in 2012. She is a Hancock County resident and currently serves as the Hancock County Public Library Board president.