I’ve always loved the idea that a public library is more than the building it inhabits. Yes, of course the physical space is important — it is a gathering place for the community, a safe place for curiosity and the exchange of ideas, a warm place on a cold day, and a cool place on a hot one. The building has the books, the computers, and the knowledgeable, welcoming staff that make a library a focal point of a community. But the library is not just the building. 

The library is the community connections, not the building in which they happen. It is the spirit of inquiry that brings people to the shelves and computers, wanting to learn more, met by librarians’ desire to help and their skill in guiding patrons to the information they seek. It is the love of a good story and the desire to share it — and that can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances. 

So, when we learned that the Ashland Branch would be closed to the public for a month, we packed up our library and took it on the road. Over the last few weeks, Ashland Library staff have been popping up all over town. We’ve done storytimes and puppet shows in the park, we’ve led crafts, conversations, and computer classes at the Senior Center, we’ve brought lunchtime activities to hundreds of teens at the middle and high school, and we’ve set up shop at The Rogue Valley Grower’s Market, SOU’s Stevenson Union, the YMCA, and Rogue Earth Day, spreading the word about library services and signing people up for library cards. 

Here are a few of my favorite stories of those encounters: 

  • A patron saw us at the Grower’s Market and told us that one of our librarians had helped him find a free private meeting room in town where he could take an online job interview. He got the job and has started at the DMV! 
  • Another patron stopped by just to tell us how much she loves the library, how she appreciated that we kept going through Covid closures, and that the Kanopy film streaming service we provide is the best thing she’s ever discovered. 
  • A six-year-old was drawn like a magnet to a book we had on display at Earth Day, paging through bright photographs of wild animals. When I said that he could borrow it if he had a library card, he immediately turned to his dad and asked if he could get a card. We signed him up on the spot, all because of the magic of that book. 
  • A couple who is getting married this summer was delighted to learn about our Library of Things and were jokingly disappointed that the inflatable unicorn sprinkler is already reserved for the week of their wedding, so they won’t be able to feature it at their reception. 
  • A man who has stopped by our booth at the Market each week that we’ve been there mentioned that he had a book he needed to get ahold of for a book group. We’d only brought a dozen books that day for our display, but sure enough, the book he needed was among them! He was absolutely tickled to check a book out at the Grower’s Market. 

Most months, our branch staff don’t get to spend a lot of time outside of our building. We have service desks to staff and events to facilitate inside the library. It has been a real treat getting out of the building and bringing the library to the community. We’ve seen the familiar faces of people who use the library every week, we’ve spoken to people who haven’t been there in years, and to people who have never used the library, but who signed up for a card because we were in the right place at the right time for them. 

April has been a big month for outreach for the Ashland branch staff, but JCLS has a dedicated Outreach Department that serves a wide range of people and needs all over Jackson County. Multiple times a week, JCLS Outreach staff take bags of loaner books to preschools and childcare centers and lead early literacy storytimes with the children there. Education Services staff support the work of schoolteachers and do outreach to youth in the Juvenile Detention Center. The Business Librarian helps local small business owners connect with resources to help them plan and realize their vision. Outreach staff also curate selections of books to be sent to patrons who are unable to visit our branches. The DART Van brings technology and an internet connection to remote and high-need locations in Jackson County and Digital Services Specialists teach community members how to use the technologies that are more and more a part of everyday life.

As our county’s public library, we are dedicated to bringing our services to as many county residents as possible. We are forever grateful for the stalwart library users who come in the doors each day, but we know that there are those who may never come into the buildings. For those people, we bring the library outside the walls of our branches. We take our show on the road, because while a library is a building, it is much more than that. The library is the service, the community, the collection, the opportunity to connect, the sense of belonging. Because your public library is for everyone, inside the walls or out.