Longtime Gering library director: Libraries are still a great place to connect

April 9, 2019

GERING — Although Diane Downer started out with a degree in interior design, her college job at the library led her into a different direction.

While she was in school, Downer worked at the Thompson Library on the East Campus at UNL. And after graduation, when she and her husband moved to the area, Downer went to work at the former Lighting Associates. But her interest in libraries remained.

“A position for a technical services librarian opened up in Gering, so I applied and have been working here ever since,” she said. “I arrived at a time when computers were starting to become popular, so I was also learning about that new technology.”

She added that during her first year at the Gering Library, they only had one computer and a physical card catalog to locate books in the collection.

While working at the library, Downer was also studying library science, earning her master’s degree in 2005. About that time, the library director moved from the area, so Downer applied and was named director of the Gering Public Library.

She said a lot of meetings are a big part of the job — with the Library Board, Friends of the Gering Public Library, the Foundation and other groups that develop policies for operation of the library.

“I also order the books and help maintain the collection,” she said. “I write the budget and help out in the front so I’m not just in my office all day. Plus I have a great staff that helps me develop our programming for different groups.”

Whether it’s reading time for preschool children, book discussion groups or activities for young people and adults, the staff is always busy.

While many of the activities remain the same in libraries, a lot has changed as well. Downer said they’ve completely done away with the card catalog, which is now accessed online.

The library also had several stacks of reference books, like encyclopedias. Those, too, are gone, but still remain available online in a wide range of databases from universities and education centers across the country.

However, periodicals, fiction, recent books and current events material can still be found on the shelves.

“We’re limited on shelf space so we have to be particular what materials we add to our collection,” Downer said. “At one time, we had about 40,000 titles and I don’t know how we kept them all. Today, we try to keep the collection at around 35,000.”

Part of keeping the collection at a manageable size is the annual book sale coming up April 12-13.

With many technological changes, how people access libraries are also changing. Downer said they have several patrons who use the library as kind of a home office, making copies, faxing documents and researching online.

Looking toward the future, Downer they’d like to get involved with “maker space” programs that teach new skills such as making objects using a 3D printer.

“Even with new things coming up, basic education in early childhood literacy is very important to us so we offer three story time programs to get kids interested in books and reading,” Downer said. “Libraries are becoming a great place to connect with others and with all kinds of possibilities.”