With across-the-board increases in attendance and participation at St. Charles Parish libraries, efforts to also make them a community place are working.
“Libraries are no longer just warehouses for books,” said Leann Benedict, director of the St. Charles Parish Library. “We still have physical books and people are still using them so that is still an important role that we play, but we have also become a place for people of the community to gather.”
The attendance in 2017 rose to 145,648 up from the previous year’s 139,454.
Program attendance reached 29,094 last year, also up from the prior year’s 21,825.
“Our staff works hard to find out what our communities want and need,” Benedict said. “We offer a wide variety of programs for children, teens, adults, and families. The types of programs we offer has grown and developed over the past few years. In addition to the story times and book discussion groups that you expect to see in a library, we have also done programs such as yoga, robotics, painting, our annual teen lock-in, escape rooms and cookbook discussion groups.”
Comic Con, a first-time event for the library, is the most recent example of creating a draw to the libraries.
“We are looking for what our community is interested in and bringing that interest to life for them,” Benedict said. “By doing that, we are also given the opportunity to bring new faces into our libraries and tell them about the vast array of services that we provide.”
There are few places available for community groups to meet at no charge.
“Our study rooms also provide a valuable resource to our patrons,” Benedict said. “Most days, you will find our study rooms full with individuals or small groups who just need a quiet place to study or work.”
While traditional services will likely continue at libraries, Benedict said the growth is coming from serving as a community gathering place.
“I also think we will continue to see growth in our community partnerships, working with other entities and organizations in the parish to offer patrons exciting and timely programs,” she said.
Per the numbers, the East Bank Regional Library drew the most visitors last year at 45,399 followed by the West branch at 44,627. Other attendance numbers were: St. Rose, 21,358; Paradis, 13,675; Hahnville, 8,168; Norco, 5,733; bookmobile, 2,385, and planetarium, 4,303.
Benedict said the numbers are due to developing a reputation for providing quality events and activities for all ages.
“Word of mouth helps us to reach more people,” she said. “Some of our bigger events, such as our teen lock-in, Halloween Extravaganza, and Harry Potter Book Night have gotten quite a following in the community.”
The library also provides a service for those looking to get online.
“You have to pay to have Internet access as well as to have access to most services,” she said. “However, anyone can come to the library to use our computers—and they do.”