“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Public Library ... where neither rank, office nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.”
–Andrew Carnegie, American steel magnate, philanthropist and builder of 2,509 libraries worldwide.
During the 1960s, in response to an overwhelming number of requests, the Washington State Library Commission conducted a four-year grant-funded Demonstration Project to improve library services for rural residents in five southwest counties of the Evergreen State. Fueled by the twin spirits of necessity and innovation, the project sought to unify the small districts already in existence while simultaneously establishing service to residents in previously excluded areas. Finding immense strength through this experimental collaboration, the program was a success, and in November 1968, it committed to the truth in Andrew Carnegie’s democratic ideal: The rural citizens of all five counties pledged their tax and timber dollars for the benefit of all, and with a vote for permanent change, created the Timberland Regional Library.
Today, spanning almost 7,000 square miles, with 27 community libraries serving a population of nearly 500,000 residents, TRL continues with obvious success on the path of its original mission: “To provide information, resources, services and welcoming places where all people are free to read, learn, connect and grow.” It’s an ambitious vision. But for residents of Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, with three nearby branches to fill their needs (Ilwaco, Naselle and Ocean Park, Wash.), it’s easily within reach.
“What continues to impress me most about this system,” says Susan Carney, youth library associate at the newly remodeled branch in Ocean Park, “is that here we are, literally steps away from the edge of the continent, and look at what we have access to. Simply walk into the library, and instantly you’re not as isolated as you thought you were.”
Indeed, with the universal pass of a library card (free to residents in the Timberland district but also available to anyone else for $83 per year), users at any branch have TRL’s entire collection – a magnificent 1.7 million items – completely at their disposal. And with a commitment to rural communities still central to its service, the district employs its own courier system to deliver any requested item – books, CDs, DVDs and thousands of magazines and newspapers – to a patron’s branch of choice, usually within just a few days. Of course, that’s not all.
Though still its sacred backbone, today’s evolving library consists of much more than traditional books. With the push of a button, either using the dedicated high-speed Internet service at a library branch or by signing in to the library’s website from home, TRL users can view digital content, search the library catalog, reserve materials, place holds on items currently on loan to other members, peruse booklists for all ages, get homework help for kids and teens, locate discussion groups, or download e-books, audiobooks, and videos to their home or portable devices. Empowered by any computer, members can search dozens of online databases, gaining access to countless periodicals, as well as encyclopedias, standardized test materials and emergency preparedness resources, just to name a few. Additionally, using the library’s subscription to Freegal, a downloadable music service, patrons can choose from hundreds of thousands of songs in every genre of music, legally downloading up to three per week which can be kept indefinitely. And, staying fully in tune with technology that enhances service, TRL recently announced access to its latest online addition, Ed2Go, which offers more than 300 six-week-long online courses for professional development or personal enrichment, all led by expert instructors.
If the technological aspects of the modern library seem a bit overwhelming, rest assured: For Timberland users, the heart of the system still resides within its walls. At each branch, an array of entertaining educational and cultural activities for all ages continually connects users with the library. With programs like Adult Winter Reading (which carries a chance to win prizes now through March 15 for reading books), the Family Read Aloud (a challenge that invites families with youngsters to read in every room in their home), and Timberland Reads Together (a month-long series of events held each October, all around a single book), users are consistently drawn back through the doors of their local branches. And with year-round events like author lectures, free tax help, story times, senior learning assistance, teen gaming nights, financial planning seminars, book groups, genealogy classes and free arts and crafts workshops, patrons keep returning in daily droves.
“This is such a crossroad for the community,” says Beth Sexton, library assistant at the Ocean Park branch. “Here we see people of every age, from every walk of life, from every kind of economic background, with every level of education imaginable. Some are here each day, reading the newspaper or checking their email. Some are more sporadic, coming in to research a project, learn about starting a new business or to use the public computers. Others,” she adds with a smile, “come in for the good, old-fashioned reason of wanting a warm place to quietly read a good book. The great part is, each and every one of these things is totally appropriate and just exactly what we’re here for.”
Cheryl Heywood, TRL’s new library director, couldn’t agree more. “Timberland grows and changes as its residents, organizations and communities grow and change. The system is driven by you, whoever you are, whatever your age, whatever you do. If you just need a fact or bit of information, ask a librarian. If you need access to a whole body of knowledge, start at the library. If you need to begin your life over, start at the library.”
Because no matter who you are today, within this great democratic equalizer, you can still become the person you’ve always wanted to be. Look no further than Timberland Regional Library – a wealth beyond words.