Every other week, Josephine Casarez finds herself at the Victoria Public Library, where she spends time leisurely exploring the shelves of books and filling a reusable Friends of the Library tote bag with her newest selections.
She checks out between 10 and 12 books each visit, and usually reads them all before her next return.
“I’m retired, so I have the time to read!” she said. “It’s so nice to not have to buy books when you can come here and check out so many for free. Right now, I’m into mystery books.”
When you go to the library, what item are you looking for?
Casarez was one of many visitors to the Victoria Public Library, 302 N. Main St., on a recent afternoon. As she searched for the best new mystery novel, other visitors sat quietly with their noses tucked deep into a book and others worked diligently on laptops or library computers. In a different room, about 30 kids participated in a creative library event with Legos.
“A library is a gathering place, a collaborative place for people to come together and take part in one of the many things a place like this has to offer,” said Dayna Williams-Capone, the library’s director.
Libraries will always be connected with books, but the purpose of them is expanding and evolving, Williams-Capone said. In late-June, the library director presented information to Victoria City Council at a budget workshop with pride: Nearly 4,000 people visit Victoria’s library each week, and more than 6,700 items are checked out on a weekly basis.
Additionally, there has been a 32% increase in attendance at library programs and events in the past five years, an increase that Williams-Capone later said “has come about purposefully.”
Williams-Capone said the library is in the middle of a strategic five-year plan, which started in 2017, that was designed to find answers to questions such as: What are opportunities to fill the needs of our community, and how can the library meet those needs? How can the library make an impact? An initial five-year plan took place from 2011 to 2016, she said.
She said that to answer those questions, library staff have taken time to observe and initiate conversations with people in the community, and seek out consistent feedback.
“We really began watching what was happening in our building during the different events and times of day, and noticed things,” she said. “It stood out when we realized that people would come to the library for one of many different reasons and often bring their kids, but then they’d also bring their grandma, or their cousin, their friends, their neighbor next door, and we started seeing that it really is a place people can come together.”
With that awareness, the library has worked hard to grow its opportunities for people of all ages, she said. And, the effort appears to be paying off.
On the same afternoon that Casarez was filling up her tote bag of books, two St. Joseph High School students sat together to work on summer chemistry homework. Other library visitors sat with their friends and families, reading books and even quietly playing games.
Nearby, Katherine Navarro sorted through the kids’ movies with her 2-year-old daughter, Elvira. She said they visit the library often.
“When we want to get out of the house, the library is a really good place to come,” she said. “We get a lot of movies here because it’s nice that the library has these and not only books.”
On a daily basis, different areas of the library are bustling with activities. Just this week, program events included family and baby time, a teen craft for the popular show “Stranger Things,” a 3D printing class, a gardening class for adults, Lego playing for kids and more. In 2018, the library offered 505 programs that attracted more than 22,000 programs attendees, according to the library’s annual report.
Williams-Capone told Victoria City Council the library is thinking long-term about how to continue to meet the needs of the community, as those needs continue to evolve.
She said the library staff is thinking about flexibility in terms of building space to meet the needs for their many events, as well as looking into expanding services for families, which would include adding a family restroom.
More immediately, the library director presented a request for funding different building improvements, including $180,000 for new carpet on the library’s main floor. She said she has made the same request in years past, but the money hasn’t been in the budget to fund it.
Amid the books and events that the library offers, Williams-Capone said that libraries meet a unique need in communities, being places where people of all ages and demographics are welcome.
“There are not a lot of spaces in Victoria, or in life, where you can go and you aren’t required to purchase something, or you didn’t have to be invited, or you don’t even have to participate if you don’t want to,” she said. “There aren’t a lot of spaces where you can go to just be, and here at the library, you can.”