Pack up your tubas, put down your TI-83 graphing calculators and pay attention. Out with the noun and in with the verb, the work “geek” has a whole new slew of connotations to go along with the once unflattering term.
People all over are now “geeking” everything they love as part of the library’s community awareness campaign, Geek the Library.
“We want people to know what no matter what you geek, whether it’s video games or puppies or horses of fitness or British literature, whatever you like, we have resources to help you find out more about it,” said Lisa Fipps, Director of Marketing at the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library.
The program originated as a result of libraries across the country shutting down due to lack of funding and support. The goal is to show people that no matter what you geek, the public library supports you, and to spread awareness about the value of libraries and the critical funding issues they face.
Geek the Library was initiated by the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation and the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) after Bill Gates noticed a trend in libraries struggling.
“His foundation and the OCLC worked together to try to figure out the problem. Why are there these closing and cuts in libraries? Obviously the first thing is the economy in general. You hear reports that it’s getting better, but at the same time, you still see people losing housing and other things. So it’s really not as good as some people say it is or you wouldn’t have that problem,” said Fipps.
So, Geekthelibrary.org was launched, a website that’s chock-full of information about how libraries get their money to explain some of the common misconceptions.
“A lot of people think that somehow when you checkout a book, we somehow get some kind of profit from the book publisher. Some people think that the money from the fines and the dues pay it, which is laughable. Some people think the federal government funds it. What they don’t realize is that their property tax dollars fund it, just like they fund the schools and the city and the town,” said Fipps.
When the economy went down, property taxes went town, and like other businesses and organizations, the library was hit hard. Though California libraries have seen the most closings and funding issues, libraries in Indiana are not exempt.
In Johnson County and Greenwood, their libraries are facing shortfalls of 10 percent next year, while Edinburg libraries plan to spend 5 percent less. In Hammond, two public libraries were closed because of a 1.2 million dollar shortfall.
“It really got started in California when California had its huge budget crunch, but Greenwood is just south of Indianapolis, and greenwood a fairly affluent area. And here they are facing a 10 percent cut,” she said. “When you have an affluent area like Greenwood struggling, it makes you wonder what could happen to Kokomo.”
There are three types of people, Fipps explained. There are those who do not support libraries, who do not care about libraries and who will never support libraries. Then then are those people who love libraries, who are excited about libraries and who will always support libraries. And in the middle, there are the people who like libraries and think they’re great, but will they support a library if it came down to it?
“We’re trying to reach that middle group,” Fipps said. “If we were financially hit severely, would they step up and say, ‘No, this can’t happen to our community.’ We don’t’ know, so we’re trying to get to those people and let them know what we offer, how important we are to the community and get them to be supporters of the library.”
Along with addressing the issues with funding, the libraries also are using the campaign as a way to make the community aware that the library is more than just books.
“When people think of us, they think books and nothing else. They don’t think about the free computer classes we offer. They don’t think about the computer labs you can use for free. They don’t think about the fact that we deliver to people who are homebound, that we go to senior citizen facilities,” she said.
The library’s mission is to educate the community, and that is what they’re striving to do by keeping up-to-date on all current trends and electronics. Recently, a program was launched where library card holders could download songs for free called Freegal Music. And, in the spring, the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library will offer e-readers for patrons to check out.
Each Saturday, the library offers free computer classes to teach those who are interested programs such as Word and Excel.
“There are a lot of people out of work these days who don’t know how to use a computer and need to know how to use a computer, and they can come here. They can learn for free, and they can practice for free. They can check out books about how to use those programs, and they can learn a lot and get that job that they need and get those skills that they need to get it,” said Fipps.
The library also has audio books available, as well as large-print books for those who may not be able to see well.
“I just want people to think about if they could imagine Kokomo without its library, without a place to take their kids for story time, without a place to take their kids when they need to do research papers or other homework, to not have a place to check out DVDs, and imagine what that would be like to a community,” she said. “If you can imagine a community without that, it’s kind of scary.”
So, what do you geek?