Tina Walker knows how important a library is to a community.
She cites a letter as an example.
Walker, who writes a weekly column for the Fremont Tribune, is director of Keene Memorial Library, which is now involved in a $10 million expansion project. In a recent column, Walker asked readers to tell her how a public library impacted them.
She got a letter the next day.
The letter’s writer said when they were a child, the library was a warm, wonderful, safe place for them. It was a place of learning and a chance to explore the world from the inside of that library.
And it made an impact that continues to benefit that person.
Every day, Walker can see how the library continues to impact people — job seekers, homeschoolers, young children and older residents.
The library helps students who need — and otherwise wouldn’t have access to — high-speed internet to complete textbook assignments.
It provides outreach and access to services for schools, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, daycare centers, nonprofit groups and other libraries. The library has a plethora of programs and various groups meet here, too.
Recent figures indicate that the library served 7,707 people through 464 children’s programs, 738 through its early literacy program and 75 through a young-adult program.
In 2017, the Fremont City Council gave its approval for the library to proceed with an estimated $10 million project that would add a two-story expansion to the east of the building on Broad Street.
A year later, local residents approved a $2 million bond issue for the library, and groundbreaking is expected to start in the spring of 2021.
“With the bond issue, city dollars and private funds, we’re right under $4 million,” Walker said. “We have $6 million to go.”
This expansion is designed to increase meeting space, improve security and safety and create separate areas in the library for children, teens and adults. Parking spaces will be added as well.
Fremont’s first library was a 1901 Carnegie library, located on Military Avenue.
With the expansion, the current library, built in 1970, will nearly double in size. The existing library will be remodeled and the new library areas will be designed to flow into the older building.
Features of the remodeled library will include private study areas for adults, a genealogy room, teen space, computer lab, makerspace area, computer lab, garage and book drop.
The addition will include a new adult fireplace area, coffee nook, tech-ready meeting space, a secure children’s area, catering kitchen and more program space.
Extra programming room will allow the library to provide more classes and educational sessions for the community on topics such as internet safety, social media, coding and programming and basic Microsoft Office programs.
Local community groups and businesses will be able to use the space for educational, free and public meetings.
Walker said the large meeting space would be on the first floor by the front door so it could be used before and after library hours. The room will be divisible into three separate meeting rooms, each equipped with presentation hardware and software. Laptop computers also will be available for learning and hands-on courses.
The catering kitchen is planned to be placed next to the large meeting space, Walker said.
Library data also states that the expansion will add more than 20 parking spaces. The main entry will be flat for easy access and a drive-through drop-off zone at the front door.
With the expansion, the library can provide services tailored to small business development and entrepreneurship.
“Our goal is to develop a small business center where we assist local businesses with free resources and programs focused on developing and maintaining small business,” promotional information by the library states.
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New meeting space will have the most current technologies for presentations and computer-friendly table space.
In the meantime, the Friends of Keene Memorial Library A Trust group purchased two properties east of the library and deeded those to the City of Fremont.
Walker said the City plans to put out a request for proposal between April and June. People could buy these homes, but will need to move them.
Houses on these properties either will need to be moved or razed to make way for the expansion.
Fundraising work on the effort is continuing, Walker said. She said she and library staff have been meeting with individuals and groups for the last year-and-a-half, answering questions and providing information — explaining why a library is needed and how it will help the community.
“I’ve had nothing but positive response,” Walker said. “It’s been wonderful.”
The Friends of Keene Memorial Library has also hired a professional fundraiser, Paul J. Strawhecker, LLC, Inc. The Friends and Walker have been meeting with the firm to prepare the fundraising campaign.
Walker said the library expansion project was affected by March 2019 flooding.
“We had committee members have to back out of the committees because their own personal property was damaged,” she said.
Fundraising for the library had to be put on a back burner as the focus of most fundraising was for flood victims or recovery efforts.
Additionally, expansion committees have been reformed and work continues.
“We’re almost ready for the marketing packet,” Walker said. “We’re going to start putting together some after-hour evening events at the library in February and March. Strawhacker has started moving forward on grants and speaking with grant providers. We’re just getting ready in February to start moving toward reach out and asking for larger grants and private funds.”
One of the most challenging parts about the project is that it requires hundreds of hours of attending meetings and groups and meeting with people one-on-one to educate the community on the benefits of the library.
But Walker has no trouble touting the library’s many benefits.
She said people use the library to look for jobs, create resumes and to fill out applications which must be done online.
The library helps people who don’t have access to high speed internet or copy or fax machines. Walker has seen some people use the library like a home office, and children also benefit from the library.
“With all of our pre-K literacy programs, we’re basically prepping kids to do better in school,” she said.
The library partners with homeschooling families with the programs it provides along with the variety of resources on its shelves.
Walker notes that not every child has access to high-speed internet for educational purposes, but the library has Verizon Jetpack mobile hotspots and other devices that provide access for students who otherwise wouldn’t have it.
In 2017, Walker told the Tribune that when talking with Learning Center staff she found that more than 50% of students who visited the center didn’t have Internet access at home, meaning they wouldn’t have access to online textbooks at home.
Library personnel also can help students learn how to do research, use the internet and find materials and resources.
Walker pointed out great partnerships the library has with other organizations — nonprofit and educational.
“We can provide resources that they don’t have funding for or we can do specialized training that they don’t have time or staffing to take care of and we can provide resources and education,” she said.
Walker cites poignant moments she’s enjoyed during the library expansion project — the many times she’s stopped, all over town, and thanked for working on this endeavor.
People have told Walker the library is important to the community and provide examples of how they’ve benefited from the library or how their grandchildren are able to come to the library.