Original article published in the Mower County Independent, Thursday March 10th, 2022. Reprinted with permission and gratitude.
By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
“Sometimes people think of the library as just a place to check out books. While we do a lot of that, we do so much more. We can help with finding unique materials, provide a place for a meeting for local organizations and groups (which we do for many already), we can be a meeting spot for people to knit together, do puzzles, spend time with friends, and attend programs that enhance and enrich lives,” stated Spring Valley Public Library (SVPL) Director Jenny Simon.
She continued, “We have Internet access and computers for those who may need to apply for jobs or work and [write] resumes. There are fax, scan, and printing capabilities.”
Simon added, “The library is a place where all are welcome and safe. Children of all ages are welcome here, and we don’t mind their laughter and chatter. As I have said for the almost eight years of being director, this isn’t a ‘be quiet’ library. We are a library that is alive. Alive with ideas, people, and alive with a future and a place in our community that is unique and necessary. We need the community as much as the community needs us.”
SVPL and its staff serve patrons who reside in Spring Valley, as well as bibliophiles from Wykoff, Ostrander and beyond, and its pulse vibrates with connections to people in all those surrounding communities. People among those who form SVPL’s backbone include staff, library board members, some very dedicated volunteers, and of course, its patrons.
Simon shared that the staff currently includes herself, library assistant Jeanette Ramaker and library assistant and cataloger Jenni Lovejoy, who joined the crew in the fall of 2020. “Chelsey Alverson also helps out during summer reading and filling in as needed.
The library board of trustees has all seats filled and consists of Kristina Rader, president, Trisha Montgomery, treasurer, Alex Merkel, secretary, and members Nancy Stender, Janelle Mosher-Rowe, Joel Huebner and Pam Phillips. The library is very appreciative of Gene Ramaker for all he does behind the scenes to help keep the building looking good and functioning. He vacuums for us, mops, fixes things that have broken or aren’t working right, and [does] just about anything else we need.”
Anyone who understands SVPL’s media and literary lending muscle and the ligaments that string patrons and visitors to that framework was quite likely feeling very lost at the end of March 2020, when Simon and board members had to determine how to navigate the outset of the COVID pandemic and close the library to in-person patron usage.
The director recounted, “When COVID first hit, we closed completely for two weeks. After that short time, we opened for curbside pick-up or by appointment to come in and check out or use the computer. Since February of 2021, we have been operating as if we were pre-COVID. We are open full hours, with the exception of Saturdays. Even prior to COVID, we were only open the first and third Saturday of each month, with numbers of patrons visiting those days pretty low. Our intention is to eventually bring back two Saturdays a month again. When that happens is hard to pinpoint. We are waiting to see how numbers of patrons rise during the week that would make being open Saturdays justifiable again.”
Simon cited, “As with any big change in people’s lives and schedules, COVID has affected the library in some ways, too. We are having fewer visits and circulation is down a bit. We are hoping that people get back into the habit of coming in and checking out materials. This trend is not specific to the Spring Valley public library, as many libraries are seeing reduced numbers of visits since COVID. People have moved away from old habits, like coming to the library, and many aren’t going out as much. We also understand that the pandemic has changed the way that many people are doing things, so we are always looking for ways to meet people where they are. We will continue to offer curbside to any patrons who don’t want to or can’t come inside for whatever reason.”
She commended her staff for their vigorous response to the itchy topic of how to operate a public library during a pandemic; they’ve learned to swat away any irritations and just move on.
“Staff has adapted wonderfully to the changes that COVID brought to the library. Our staff are flexible, hard-working, and adaptable to change on a dime. Right now, there are not a whole lot of differences from pre-COVID, minus a few safety precautions such as Plexiglass at the front desk, and minimal manipulatives available in the children’s section. Most things are back to normal.
“We changed our programming for summer the last two years and ran a highly successful program with weekly ‘grab and go’ bags that included crafts, activity pages and more. We also had ‘story strolls’ in our front lawn for patrons to enjoy, as well as yard games. Each week, there was a Facebook Live story for kids to tune into. In 2021, we had activities inside the library, like the Golden Book search, and both years, we offered an ‘I spy’ window that was visible from inside or outside.”
All this did not go unnoticed. “Kids and parents both shared how much they enjoyed all the activities provided by the library. In 2021, we handed out close to 600 bags over six weeks,” Simon shared.
The director stated that presently, the staff is “trying to focus forward” and get the body of literary works in motion for better health. “We have been working to better organize our collections and will be doing some physical moving of sections soon. Our collection continues to grow in all areas and genres. We have been building our ‘Cozy Mystery’ section. These are stories, many from Guideposts, that are clean, easy, and fun to read. We have a collection of about 400 of these books, divided into many series, and they get requested from all over the state of Minnesota, as well as being checked out frequently from our patrons and within SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating).
“We also received a grant from SELCO using American Rescue Plan Act funds to purchase new nonfiction books for young children and teens. Those areas of our collection need some updating in content to match what has changed in this world and to provide some fresh materials for the youth. We also work hard to keep up on the popular authors that patrons love.”
SVPL’s skin has needed repairs for some time even though its heart is beating quite healthily. Simon explained, “The board has been talking about applying for a Minnesota Department of Education Library Construction grant to help fund the repair of the exterior of the building. The program is authorized biennially by the Minnesota legislature and funded from the sale of general revenue obligation bonds. The funds have not been secured for the program this year as of yet, but the grant application would begin next fall if funding goes through.
“Our exterior is exterior insulation finishing system (EIFS), and it has many dings and holes and is cracking in areas. The grant could help us repair that if it were to be funded and we can provide the required matching funds. The Spring Valley EDA director, Chris Hahn, has been working with us on understanding the grant, and the EDA would help us write the grant itself.”
Community programming is further proof that SVPL is an animated place–hosting the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) “Pollinators: Bee Aware” exhibit through March 11, along with numerous special guest presenters who will offer insight on aspects of life both insect and human. Simon, who’s known for raising monarch butterflies at the library, noted, “Regarding programming, we are glad to be getting back on our feet with in-person programming. We are excited to have this interactive exhibit at our library and hope our patrons will stop in and learn more about the role of pollinators in our ecosystem.”
Additionally, Simon invited, “Chad Lewis will be at the library on March 24 at 6 p.m. Chad is a researcher, author and lecturer on topics of the strange and unusual. He will be hosting a fun and engaging program about the ‘Bizarre History of Minnesota.’ Jumping to June, we will be hosting the MPCA’s ‘Karst and Water Pollution’ exhibit and presentations. This exhibit is in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) state library services and will be at the library from June 1 through 15.” She shared the description of the program, which reads that “it examines the unique challenges for keeping groundwater clean in the karst geology of southeastern Minnesota…it explores some of the sources of water pollution and what all of us can do to ensure safe drinking water and healthy streams.”
The library is certainly a literary lifeline for children, as its staff works hard to create activities for the tiniest to the tallest – Simon pointed out that children’s story time will be held on the first and third Fridays of each month at 10:30 a.m. beginning March 18.
“It’s appropriate for ages six and under and will include songs, stories, and a small take-home craft. And the library’s summer reading program begins June 15 and has a theme of ‘Read Beyond the Beaten Path.’ We are planning for in-person programs this summer with take-home crafts. We have some fun presenters planned already.”
More details on the summer reading program will be available as the months zip by, Simon related, adding that there are even materials inside the library that can check people’s lives into the great outdoors. “Last but not least, we still have a Minnesota State Parks pass available on a first-come, first-served basis. It can be borrowed for a seven-day period and is good at any Minnesota state park. This program was just renewed for two additional years. And ALL library programs are free and open to the public.”
Spring Valley’s public library is located on East Jefferson Street, just off Broadway and behind First National Bank. The friendly library staff welcome patrons and visitors alike to stop in for a chat, a question or even a giggle. For more information, log onto the SVPL website at www.springvalley.lib.mn.us, or call 507-346-2100.