Is this your grandfather’s library? The answer to that question, a paraphrase of a car commercial tagline, is “no.” And “yes.”
There are so many new things happening at the Los Banos public library, persons of earlier generations might not recognize it. Besides brighter colors, newer furniture, current books and upgraded computers, the library has children’s programs, young adult programs, Lego Time, Movie Time, puppet and bubble shows, and the most recent addition, a Veterans Connect Center.
Meanwhile, the library provides everything it did for previous generations: a wide variety of books for children and adults, magazines, local and regional newspapers, and library professionals providing friendly help behind the circulation counter.
For people like me, a grandfather who has fond memories of libraries going back seven decades, the Los Banos branch of the Merced County Library (on Seventh Street near Pacheco Boulevard) is still my library.
It’s a welcoming place where people of all ages can browse among shelves, find a few books that look interesting, leisurely peruse them and then check them out.
For people of all generations, our library offers many more activities than libraries I went to as a kid. Today’s Los Banos library offers, for example, Family Lego Time, where kids can put together Lego creations, on the third Friday of every month from 3 to 4:30 p.m. The Teen Program meets the third Wednesday of the month from 3 to 4:30. And movie time is scheduled the last Friday of each month.
As a result of a welcoming environment, friendly staff, additional activities and new reading materials (782 were added last year), more and more people are using the Los Banos library.
In 2016, staff members answered 14,552 patron questions, assisted 4,719 computer users, offered 16 young adult programs and provided 115 children’s programs (on Thursday and Saturday mornings) with 2,409 children attending. The local library presented a puppet show in December, which drew 65 children and parents, and a “Wild Child Bubble Show” last month, which drew 51 children and parents.
A new program just starting is called “A Thousand Books before Kindergarten,” which encourages parents to read 1,000 books to and with their children before kindergarten, using the library as the main source to find and check out children’s books.
With so much going on, the Friends of the Los Banos Library and the library staff are making it a point to let patrons know the schedules of upcoming events. There is a Friends of the Los Banos Library Facebook page and calendar, as well as a hard-copy Monthly Happenings flier, updated once a month, available in the library at the circulation desk.
This collaboration of library professionals (Nola Ramirez and Crystal Vega) and volunteers (Friends of the Los Banos Library) has been a key part of the library’s recent success. But more help is needed. The small group of Friends of the Los Banos Library has done much, but that group is getting smaller, with several people moving out of town.
More volunteers are needed. “If you like books and libraries and have just a little bit of your time to help,” said Billy Via, president of Friends of the Los Banos Library, “we need you – the sooner the better.” Persons interested in helping the group in any way can call to leave their name in the library with Nola or Crystal.
The most recent addition to the library is one that the staff is especially proud of – the Veterans Connect Center. Volunteers serve at the desk of this center Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Walk-ins are welcome. On days and times when volunteers are not present, Nola can offer assistance, based on the training she has received from the veterans office.
The Veterans Connect Center has a dedicated computer system and printer to help veterans find information and resources and print documents and paperwork at no charge. There are also books of particular interest to returning veterans and their families. Soon veterans will have a dedicated phone line to call and talk with a service officer.
“What often helps veterans most,” Ramirez said, “is simply seeing a friendly face and a person who understands and is willing and able to help.”
Yes, today’s Los Banos library is indeed one that can and does help many generations with many different services.
Comments on the writings of John Spevak, a California Newspaper Publishers Association first-place award recipient for 2014, are encouraged, and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.