The Peoria Public Library Board is nearing a crucial point in its strategic plan to provide quality and efficient library service to all Peoria residents. Local voters agreed in a referendum a year ago when they asked the City Council—with a 72 percent “yes” vote—to issue $35 million in bonds to upgrade the library. The overwhelming support for this measure surprised some people, but to the Library board it meant that pent-up demand for top-quality library service was even higher than realized.
The voters of Peoria affirmed that a vibrant, state-of-the-art public library system is a critical part of a healthy community’s educational and cultural infrastructure. And libraries are proven champions for community and economic growth. The mayor and residents of Kankakee, for example, will tell you that the recovery in that community started with putting the library in the center of downtown and turning it into a cultural center and sophisticated showplace. It was such a big change for the town that it’s been written up in The New York Times.
Close to 600,000 people walk through the doors of the Peoria libraries every year. On any given day, an average of more than 2,100 items, with a combined price tag of nearly $62,000, are checked out and used in the community. If you translate the use of our public computers into commercial computer rentals, people would be spending nearly $1.15 million annually.
So, are libraries underutilized? On the contrary, local library services are in great demand. But like any part of a community’s infrastructure, it requires investment. The downtown branch, which opened in 1967, is increasingly in need of repairs and is not designed for effective and efficient workflow, nor suited to current technology. Our Lakeview branch is cramped to the point of not being able to meet the demand for services. The north side of the city—where the majority of residential growth is occurring—is removed from library services. Other branches—McClure, Lincoln/Southside—are in need of both facility and service upgrades.
Along with an improvement in the facilities will come major gains in customer service. The Library Board is working with consultants to design maximum space utilization and increased efficiencies. In effect, library patrons can be assured of better facilities, more efficiencies and improved services—including increased weekend hours. While it’s true that taxpayers will be paying more, the return on that investment will be tremendous. The Peoria Library Board and library staff have worked for eight years to bring this to fruition—responding every step of the way to City Council requests, including its call for a referendum. Failure of the Council to act now will jeopardize the future of a vital community resource.
The Peoria Library Board believes the slogan of the Nashville Public Library says it all: “Great libraries make great cities!” We need to act now to ensure the future greatness of Peoria’s Public Library system…and shortly, the final decision will be in the hands of the Peoria City Council. IBI