A welcome sign is hanging at Lawrence Public Library for young teen-agers -- tweeners who find themselves a minority among U.S. library patrons.
Bruce Flanders' current mission is to convince young adults in Lawrence to break free of conventional wisdom and slip into the zone.
"It's a tough group to reach, but we'll work at it," said Flanders, director of Lawrence Public Library and the man applying resources to develop a fledgling section in the library -- The Zone -- dedicated to attracting the city's junior high crowd.
Historically, public libraries have created children's' room that cater to readers through sixth grade. Adults typically dominate the remainder of the building.
Flanders said the disturbing result of this institutional neglect was that young teens across the nation disconnect from public libraries.
"That joy of reading " is something that can go by the wayside."
He said youngsters in the late 1990s are at greater risk of slipping through the cracks. They are bombarded by options for their free time. "The public library is usually about 500th on the list to do," Flanders said.
But the director is committed to changing that vibe by stocking a special section in the city's library with books, magazines, music, tapes, audio books and Internet access that appeals to youths. A staff member at the library is responsible for expanding collections in the area.
"The section " will be growing up."
Computers and change
Flanders ought to know a bit about the library's role in young lives. He's used the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., for nearly half a century and worked there during high school and college.
He became director after the death in 1994 of Wayne Mayo, who managed the library for 31 years.
Community libraries have changed dramatically since Mayo's early days on the job. If anything, the pace of transition has picked up while Flanders has been in charge of a facility with 54 staff members and $1.6 million budget financed primarily by the city.
Flanders said the influence of computers on library operations would expand. Gone, of course, are card catalogs in oak cabinets. They were replaced in 1997 by an online system. But the influence of computers at the library goes deeper.
"We want to provide value-added Internet access," Flanders said.
That's a fancy way of saying library staff provide computers for folks to explore the vast, expanding warehouse of information on the electronic highway. And, more to the point, they offer access to electronic search systems only available at libraries.
For example, patrons can tap into a reader's advisory service that organizes novels of a certain style. If requested, the service can suggest titles of similar authors or topics.
"We do consider that to be an essential service for public libraries these days."
New and improved
Even the personality of libraries has evolved. The man or woman with an evil eye for anyone talking above a whisper is a public library rarity.
"I'm never going to shush anybody. There is nothing worse than the tomb-like library," Flanders said.
Other changes are in store -- go no farther than the front door. The current library building was constructed in 1972 and some of the lighting appears to be a combination of bookstore staid and disco crazy.
New lighting and paint improved the look of the Children's Room, and the library auditorium was renovated in 1998.
"We've made strides with help from the city. We plan to renovate the circulation lobby, add another self-checkout unit and install better signage."
But the real eye-opener could be construction of a branch library in southwest Lawrence and perhaps library kiosks elsewhere in town.
The location of the downtown library makes expansion on Vermont unlikely.
"Branch library service is the most significant development we'll be seeing at the library in the next five years," Flanders said. "Branch libraries are on the horizon for Lawrence."
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY THE BOOK
Clock's ticking: Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., is open 73 hours a week. Typically, hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Annual usage: An average of 400,000 patrons check out 61,000 items annually, while the library's cybervillage site receives more than 2 million page-views each year.
Library history: Forerunner to the city library was a collection started by J.S. Boughton in 1865. An Andrew Carnegie grant financed construction in 1904 of the first city building dedicated for library use at 200 W. Ninth (now the Lawrence Arts Center). The current library on Vermont Street opened in 1972.