ELY - Five years ago, the Ely Public Library was in the middle of big changes. The new library building was almost complete; books and items were moving out of the old Community Center and up the …
ELY - Five years ago, the Ely Public Library was in the middle of big changes. The new library building was almost complete; books and items were moving out of the old Community Center and up the alley to their new home. Plans for a grand opening were being finalized, and library patrons had thousands of circulating items checked out to help with the move.
“I can’t believe we’ve been here five years already,” Librarian Rachel Heinrich said on Tuesday during a five-year anniversary party. Fun activities and refreshments were part of the celebration.
So, after five years, what changes has a different location brought to the library?
“One big thing is the jump in library use,” Heinrich said. “In 2013 (the year before the move), library users checked out 63,338 items from the library (located in the former Community Center. In 2018, that number had increased to 73,932; an increase of 14 percent in just five years.”
Use of the library’s computers also increased in the same period from 12,740 sessions to 37,492. “But, most dramatically, those sessions using the library’s wireless connection jumped from 3,665 to 39,572 over that same five-year period,” she said.
Library clerk Tricia Flake noted that people tend to stay longer in the new library, “coming in to sit and read,” where before they would often not linger after making book selections.
Other differences show in the library’s physical changes. The library now has a permanent art collection that displays work from over 30 local artists, according to Heinrich. “We have a front lawn that allows us to hold some programs outside during the warmer months,” she said. “Outdoor seating also allows patrons to take advantage of a wifi service that covers the entire library grounds or they can just enjoy a sunny day.”
The accessible design of the main entrance makes it easier for patrons who have physical challenges to get to the library since there are no longer steps to climb, she added.
Heinrich noted that one of the bright spots about the new building for the staff is they no longer need to carry multiple bins of books and other materials up a flight of stairs from the outside book return, “particularly on days where snow and ice made it difficult to access the books in the return.”
Small study rooms give a private spot for patrons to work while the overall open floor plan makes it easier for the library staff to know what’s happening across the library while they are at the desk, she added.
Other changes have taken place since the new library building opened.
The city of Ely partnered with Minnesota Power late last year to install a solar array on the library’s roof that powers electric car charging stations in the parking lot. “This five-kilowatt solar panel installation was paid for by Minnesota Power, and any energy produced above what is used by the electric car charging stations is credited to the city,” Heinrich said.
The charging stations are rated for use to 22 degrees below zero to make them compatible with Minnesota winters, and the solar panels themselves were manufactured in Mt. Iron. “In the first year, the charging stations saw a small group of regular users through the summer and into the fall,” she said.
The Ely Library was also accepted into the NASA@My Library program and became one of 75 public libraries across the United States, and the only one in Minnesota, to have NASA-developed programming kits to use with their patrons.
“This program started a cycle of science programming for kids and adults at the library that has included a scale model of the solar system on the road between the library and Babbitt, a visit from actual lunar rocks brought back from the Apollo moon landings, night sky viewing activities, and many other great science activities,” Heinrich said.
Families can check out NASA backpack kits that include books, a robotic coding toy, and a small telescope. Additional science tools for checkout - a larger telescope, a microscope, and a Snap Circuit set - have also been purchased by Friends of the Ely Library using a bequest from the Merle Lunceford estate.
The library has increased and expanded its programming in general over the last five years, Heinrich added. In 2013, the library had 91 programs with a total attendance of 2,122 of all ages. In 2018, there were 165 programs, with total attendance at 3,705.
“Programming is now spread more evenly across the year instead of concentrated in the summer, and the library has added special programming events, like the teen summer reading sleepover and Harry Potter late nights, outside of regular library hours,” she said.
“All library events are free, and as library clerk Jessie Dunn regularly tells patrons, ‘this is the happening place' when they are looking for something fun and free to do.”