Guest Column: Library program attendance up, Sullivan Center acquisition good for community

Editor’s note: The following is in response to the July 25-31 guest column “Thoughts on the library’s proposed acquisition of the Sullivan Center,” by Rachel León, founder of Support Our Library (SOL).

By Emily Hartzog
Community Relations Officer, Rockford Public Library

Ms. León continues to be an advocate for the library’s programs and services, which is admirable. However, her article contained factual errors we are glad to correct.

First, to the claim that library programming attendance was down, let me reference the statistics (which are published monthly and available for the public to view as part of the board packet), programming attendance is up 27 percent YTD. (In raw numbers, close to 8,000 additional people have attended RPL programs this year so far.)

Library Board President Paul Logli misspoke in reference to the quote in the Rockford Register Star, and apologizes for any misperceptions that were created as a result.

As far as computer class attendance being “non-existent,” more than 250 people have attended a computer training class since April. Our staff continues to provide quality programming for all ages, drawing greater numbers every year.

Second, the library did not make a significant investment in a “computer program” to produce the digital Explorer. The digital Explorer is not only considerably more cost effective, but also allows customers to customize their own program calendars, send program information to personal Outlook or Gmail calendars, share program information with family and friends through social media and register for programs with one step.

With e-blasts, we can send customers information about the program categories of interest to them on a regular basis — keeping them better informed and more up to date than simply hoping they pick up a program guide once every quarter. We also reach customers who don’t visit our locations regularly, or who may be primarily homebound.

The system also streamlined the process for our programming team, which allows them to spend more time doing what they do best — creating world-class programs for our community.

How were these upgrades paid for? With less than what would have been one year’s printing budget for the traditional Explorer. And yes, you CAN still get printed program lists, which our staff will print for you free of charge at any location. Printing on demand saves thousands each year, and is a much greener approach to promoting programs and events.

Ms. Leon is understandably concerned about the costs associated with a gift of the Sullivan Center to Rockford Public Library. At the open house on July 31 (Note: this column was sent prior to the open house, but will print one day after it has occurred.), attendees will see firsthand the significant improvements made to the building by the current owner, including a new roof, HVAC system, elevator and ADA-accessible bathrooms, to name a few. To even suggest his dedication to an arts center downtown and willingness to donate the building to the library is anything less than altruistic is both uninformed and unfair.

Attendees will also see that the library’s initial budget projects that rental fees from outside groups, grants, internal fund transfers and other program support could very well have the center self-supporting within three years.

Rockford Public Library has been presented with an opportunity to serve as a steward for the Sullivan Center, a wonderful resource in our downtown. Take the opportunity to hear what the board envisions the Sullivan Center becoming for RPL, partner organizations and our community. After learning the facts, we welcome your thoughts and input.

Emily Hartzog is community relations officer for the Rockford Public Library.

From the Aug. 1-7, 2012, issue

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