A stroll through Goshen Public Library reveals row after row of books — with nearly every aisle empty.
But just around the corner, there’s a flurry of activity where every seat is full — the computer station.
As technology races forward, library staffers across the country are figuring out how to best serve their communities while facing shrinking revenues from property tax caps.
Goshen Public Library officials recently announced a series of proposed cost-cutting efforts. Under consideration is cutting hours the library is open, buying fewer books and multimedia, and reducing personnel costs through both attrition and changes to benefit packages.
At the same time, however, library director Andy Waters wants to increase the technology the library uses — cautiously.
“More people are using the Internet than ever before,” he said. “We’ve added Internet stations, we’ve added WiFi, we’re trying to embrace new technology — as long as we are not on the bleeding edge. We want some proven technology. With the budget cutbacks, we want to make sure we’re not taking on something that isn’t proven or affordable.”
Waters said he walks a line between providing resources to the community and meeting the budget.
“The library has always been an opportunity to give information, books and learning to people to people that have less resources,” he said. “And we want to continue to do that. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, the library is still free for you. However, we have to be able to afford what we are doing as well.”
A challenge for library personnel is the wide range of patron age groups that must be catered to, Waters said. From preschoolers to retirees, each age group uses the library in a different way.
Micah Yoder, 5, comes to the library specifically to play the educational games on the computers in the Children’s section, his grandmother said.
But Ron Goetz, a Goshen retiree, stops in the library solely for the books.
“I don’t use computers, just books,” he said. “I hope they have a future, because I’m illiterate on a computer. I’m not like these young kids.”
Goetz said the way people use the library has changed over the years.
“When I was a kid, you went to reference books,” he said, “and then reading for pleasure when you got older.”
Despite the shift from reference books to Internet research, community members still use the library as a place to socialize and share thoughts, Children’s Supervisor Margaret Kownover said.
“I think it’s a place to meet where cultural and informational happenings take place,” she said. “I think people see it as a symbol of their community. It’s more than just books.”
For Kay Ann Moore, who brings her two preschool granddaughters to the library’s story hour, the social role of the library is important — but she thinks it’s fading.
“I think the whole world is going to look different pretty soon,” she said. “As far as libraries go, it seems like people are much more into themselves and not as social, so if they could pull up a book at home, why would they want to go to the library? I think it’s great to come to the library, but at some point in time I think they won’t even have libraries.”
Waters thinks the new technology of e-books and Kindles will change what a library looks like, but that the core purpose of the library will stay the same.
“I don’t see them taking the place of books so much as taking the book farther,” Waters said. “It’s still a book. It’s easy to read, it acts like a book — you have the feeling of turning pages. They haven’t found a better way for people to take in print material. They’re simply copying what a book looks like.”
The Goshen Public Library Board is seeking community input as it considers a variety of new spending reductions that may affect public service starting in 2012 or sooner.
The public is invited to offer input during today’s library board meeting, set for 4 p.m. in the library, 601 S. Fifth St., Room A/B downstairs.