A good thing is about to get even better.
The Kyle Public Library, which has seen its usage and membership explode over recent years, is due for an upgrade of sorts – 33 new Dell computers for public use and another 16 for staff use have been authorized by the Kyle City Council and will be available for use early next year if not before.
According to Library Director Paul Phelan, the $53,495 authorized by the council was money well spent. Phelan said about two dozen public computers are now in use and the addition of newer, faster ones just constitutes the next step in the transformation of libraries from stuffy, “quiet” places of yesteryear to the vibrant, multigenerational community hubs they are becoming.
“People like to come to the library and they like libraries,” he said, explaining that far from just a place to check out a book, the Kyle Library has worked to become a “destination experience,” where young children can find hands-on, manipulative learning stations, teenagers can study alone or with friends, young adults can grab a cup of coffee and connect wirelessly to seemingly endless research materials and job seekers can access company profiles and other resources.
There’s even something for shade-tree mechanics in the form of Chilton’s manuals that holders of library cards can access through their smart phones. “If you’re out working on your car you can pull up a diagram,” he said.
Other online resources include databases such as ancestry.com. While not available to people who connect wirelessly, Phelan said the genealogy research can be conducted through library computers for free. Still more databases center on health, college admission and prep, home improvement and health – just to name a few.
“There’s a whole compendium of databases you can access,” he said.
The numbers bear out the library’s ascendent success. “We had 40,000 people use (public) computers here last year,” even more when wireless usage is figured in. Phelan said the library’s current membership has shot up to more than 232,000 – approximately 32,000 more than in February 2016, when he came on board as director. Adding in the number of people who use the library’s meeting rooms, Phelan said, the number of users goes up to 160,000.
“We had a recordbreaking year last year with checkouts,” he said, referencing the prior fiscal year. “Our total circulation is going up and up and our foot traffic is going up and up.”
Some users never even make it into the stacks – that portion of the library where books are shelved, and Phelan said that’s by design.
The foyer is laid out in the style of a coffee shop and fresh, 100 percent Columbian coffee is ground and brewed each morning. “People come in, use the wireless and get a cup of coffee,” he said.
Still others use the library to download ebooks, which they can then listen to in the car or elsewhere. “In order to stay relevant that has got to go into the mix,” he said.
Though many of the roles the library fills are year-round, others are seasonal, like the summer youth reading program that annually draws thousands of youngsters who earn points for books read.
Last year’s theme was space, “A University of Ideas,” and Phelan said though the details haven’t yet been hammered out, the Summer 2020 reading program will be water themed – pirates, the ocean and more.
Phelan said that for all the hard work of the library staff, credit also goes to the Friends of the Library organization and to city hall. Phelan said the Kyle City Council, as well as the city’s administration, has been responsive to the library’s needs and has helped it keep up with growth.
“The city council and administration here has been very supportive of the library. We have a solid budget and we’re able to provide a tremendous amount of programs,” Phelan said.
“In order to stay relevant, libraries need to step up their programming and provide a lot of fun things that the community likes to do – that leads to more library cards, and that leads to more checkouts.”
The library is open Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Though it is funded by the city, purchases at the Kyle Library Thrift shop, 100 W. Lockhart Street in downtown Kyle, also benefits the programs Phelan and his staff have crafted.