The library first occupied its new space on June 17. Since then, the facility has seen a large increase in the number of people using it on a daily basis, which the librarians said they attributed both to the move and the newfound ability to find space for books and computers that simply sat in storage in the old location.
“We were swamped from the first day,” said Joan Hammons, one of the library’s two librarians.
In July of last year, Polk County’s Friends of the Library Association purchased the building where the library now stands, the former location of the Benton Family Health Care Center. After the Polk County Commission approved the move to the new building, volunteers began work to renovate the building, tearing down the existing interior walls and starting with a blank slate.
Though the library was originally slated to open in April, the renovations took longer than planned. Still, Hammons said she was grateful for the efforts of the association and the work of members Jenny Rogers, Clarence McClure and Angela Willis.
“They were instrumental in getting the library built,” Hammons said. “They did it all. We just came in and started working.”
The library currently has a staff of two. Both are librarians who have been with the library throughout the recent changes, with one acting as the library’s director.
The changes have allowed the library to offer both more books and more access to computers in a town where many may not have such resources available to them at home.
Librarian and Director Wanell Beard said the space in the room the library occupied in the courthouse really limited what could be offered to patrons. Some resources had to wait in storage elsewhere.
“We had five boxes of new books, but we didn’t have shelves to put them on,” Beard said.
Now, the library has extra shelf space waiting to be filled. An entire row of shelves sits empty, and other shelves have large gaps between the various book genres.
But perhaps the most significant offering the new building has allowed has been the space available for computer use. While free Wi-Fi Internet access was available at the courthouse, as it is in the new location, work space was more limited. Only five desktop computers were available at the old location, but 17 computers are now available to use — 14 for adults and three in the children’s section.
Though the library had children’s books that could be checked out at the old location, it did not have much space for children to sit and read, or have someone read aloud to them.
Now, there is an entire section of the library devoted to children, which Beard said she hoped would become home to some children’s programming in the future.
In addition to children’s programming, Beard said she hopes the library may be able to offer computer literacy classes to patrons.
Attendance has grown along with the space the library has gained for books and computers. Hammons said the library generally sees at least 20 or 30 different visitors per day as opposed to just four or five per day when the library was in the courthouse building.
“That’s a big jump for us,” Hammons said. “It’s not [that big an increase] compared to the Cleveland library or anything, but it is for us. It’s more than doubled.”
As its physical location has moved, the library has been able to move to a new library management system online. Library card holders will soon be able to access resources like downloads of free eBooks and music online, Beard said.
She said the library will also be looking into applying for grants to be able to purchase new books and may be looking into expanding the library’s hours.
The library is currently open just four days a week, and it is open only in the afternoon on Tuesdays. Current hours are from 9 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and from noon to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. It is closed Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
Patrons have been requesting that the library be open on Saturdays, so Beard said she hopes they will be able to add hours on that day as well.
Any requests to expand the hours would need to be considered and approved by Polk County government.
Located at 126 Polk St. in Benton, the West Polk Public Library is one of two public libraries in Polk County. The East Polk Public Library is located in Ducktown. For more information about the West Polk library, call 423-338-4536.