The evolving public library — more than ever, it’s essential
Perhaps no public space in Santa Fe or any other city impacts as many lives as does a library that is open to one and all.
For that reason, the retirement of Pat Hodapp as director of the Santa Fe Public Library system is an important moment in our town. First, it’s important to acknowledge her leadership and accomplishments — Hodapp fought for resources in tight budget times, directed the opening of the essential Southside Library, added programs for babies and children, all the while expanding our expectations of what libraries could be.
They are no longer simply repositories of books, or even of knowledge. Libraries are places where people share information, pool resources and provide valuable services. They are safe spaces where children can study, or where teens can come for tutoring or to do research. A person with no internet at home doesn’t have to miss out on applying for jobs online; there are free computers at the library.
Just this year, the Santa Fe libraries began a seed-sharing program, where would-be gardeners can find seeds for planting and return with seeds for others to use. In other communities, libraries have nice clothing for loan so someone who needs to look spiffy for a job interview can get dressed up. Other libraries loan such things as snow shovels, toys, cake pans, hiking gear, musical instruments and art work. These items people might need but don’t want to have to store or have the money to buy. A few college libraries even offer therapy dogs for check-out — a service that would prove popular here.
Most of all, libraries are expanding programs, whether teaching digital skills to young people, or offering pop up services for the homeless. We know that in Santa Fe, our librarians often deal with people who lack shelter. The quiet reading rooms are a safe haven for those with nowhere else to go. That’s common across the country, as is the potential for serving people where they are. In San Francisco, the public library offers on-site nurses and social workers.
The possibilities for libraries are endless, it seems.
And Pat Hodapp helped move us into this new world.
Now, as Santa Fe finishes a $75,000 study on how the public library system can better serve the community — scheduled for completion in August — the city also is searching for a new library director. City Community Services Director Kyra Ochoa, who will be launching the search for the new boss soon, said employee input was sought before the hiring process started. The city also has been investigating how libraries fit into the entire picture when it comes to staffing and budgeting. All of that is important to laying the groundwork to hire the right person, especially since the expectations of this new director already are high — a people person, technologically savvy and one who understands Santa Fe.
Whoever the new boss is, he or she will have to understand budgets; currently, the library has a more than $4 million annual budget, likely going up past $5 million next year, with money coming from the city and the nonprofit Friends of the Santa Fe Public Library. There are questions, too, about whether a public library would be a good fit on the midtown campus, where the city-owned former Santa Fe University of Art and Design is being re-imagined.
So much going on, it seems. For now, let’s thank Pat Hodapp for her service, imagination and years of hard work. Then, as city leaders think about the future of libraries, consider how best to balance the library’s role in providing information, public space for contemplation and places to meet, while at the same time, being unafraid to innovate.
Libraries are the places, where every day, lives change because of the power of information. They are more important than ever.