County Commission candidates on the issues: The future of the Johnson County Public Library

JoCo_Library

Earlier today we kicked off running responses to our election questionnaires with the State Representative candidates weighing in on gun control laws. Presently, we’ll get the ball rolling with the County Commission candidates. Here’s the first questionnaire item:

The county librarian has said the Johnson County Library system will need to double in size of over the next 20 years to meet expected population growth in the area, and the library will be looking to hire an outside firm to conduct an assessment of facilities needs. Such growth would obviously require a significant investment. Do you think doubling the size of the library system should be a priority for the county, and if so, how should the expansion be funded?

Ed Eilert lead the primary field with 41 percent of the vote.

Ed Eilert, Commission Chair incumbent
The Johnson County Library Board has recently concluded a contract to begin their Master Plan review. That review is anticipated to be completed in the April-May 2015 time frame. The work is expected to provide recommendations as to the number of libraries, types of facilities and what the library of the future should be. Questions such as, should there be larger destination libraries with supporting neighborhood libraries? With the ever changing advancements in technology, how will that impact library design and function? Those and other questions should be answered by completion of the review. If major capital improvements are recommended and accepted by the Library Board, then those improvements should be submitted to a public vote for taxpayer approval.

Patricia_LightnerPatricia Lightner, Commission Chair candidate
Yes, the library facilities should be expanded to meet the growing population in Johnson County, and the assessment by an outside firm is a great, basic step to understand the potential need.

Our county government is charged with providing the library system which is also directed by the Library Board.  Since the Library system has its own mill levy that would probably need to be increased to fund this expansion.  The increase would be voted on first by the Library Board and then brought to the Johnson County Board of Commissioners for approval.

The future of libraries is evolving because of technology and the access we all have to information through the internet.   But, I believe that libraries will remain an integral part of being a community center and gathering space, and will always be a resource center for all ages.

However, it will also be the patrons of libraries who will help define the role that libraries will have in the future.  We, as Johnson Countians need to support our library system, which we would all agree is a very important aspect to the quality of life we cherish in our community.

McConwell_25Laura McConwell, District 1 Commissioner candidate

In the summer of 2012,  I learned that the Library was in the process of updating the Master Plan. During a public meeting with NE residents and our Librarian,  the citizens present confirmed just how important libraries are to the community.   Later I participated in a Library forum where we were presented with national trends, learned how similar communities utilize their libraries and we worked through various priorities/exercises.  We learned that libraries are changing.

Our Library’s top priorities are education, community building and convenience.  With these priorities in mind, in March 2014, the Library recommended a hybrid approach for its Master Plan: make use of and reinvest in many of our existing facilities and look for additional partnerships as we grow.  Libraries of the future will look different than they do now but will continue to be community gathering places, quiet refuge, a place to read, use the computer and/or do business.   As the library grows, it should not be at the expense of our existing libraries.

Our libraries are wonderful assets to our community that need to be maintained. The Library already stretches dollars by creating partnerships with others whether not-for-profit, schools, or private. The way to fund the library growth in large part will depend on the Master Plan adopted by the County. That process is not complete.  Because I believe that our libraries are well run and already conserve resources,  I would support additional funding for our libraries if we are unable to reallocate money within the County’s budget.

Regardless of the future plan, we need to address the deferred maintenance for our library that exists now otherwise it continues to create unfunded liabilities for the future.   Taking care of our libraries is a sound investment in our future.

ShafferRon Shaffer, District 1 Commissioner candidate

Our Johnson County libraries have grown into community buildings whose uses include all matter of function and activity necessitated by our changing lifestyles and quest for knowledge and information.

Our family has used our local library for over 40 years, and we have watched it consistently improve for the benefit of our community through these years.  As suggested by the County Librarian, we are behind in renovation, growth and expansion of the Library System due budget restraints brought about by the recent recession.  As a result, we are aware that the Library System will need to build new libraries, and make significant upgrades, modifications and additions to existing facilities to meet the changing needs of our communities.

The Johnson County Library System is currently going through a strategic planning process that will include an assessment of facilities to identify growth projections and future needs, and how these recommendations will best serve our citizens, now and in the future.  The Library Board’s proposal will be presented to the Commission next summer.

Technology has changed the way the Library is doing business.  The Library must stay fluid in their approach to best assess how to serve the public, be innovative as our culture shifts and stay mindful of the use of changing technology, such as the Regional library kiosks tied to the library’s popular mobile app as a cost effective complement to our existing facilities.

Once the report is finalized, the Commission will strategize how to fund the needs and suggestions of the report.  Municipal bond interest rates are as low as they have ever been.  Debt financing improvements would allow for planned growth of the system, targeting areas requiring new facilities and improving buildings in need of repair.  I will support our Libraries in my first term on the County Commission.