Fort Worth's Libraries Look to the Future

More Computers, Less Books Working at eSkills Center

By Chris Van Horne
|  Monday, Jul 11, 2011  |  Updated 4:26 PM CDT
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Fort Worth's libraries are turning to technology to stay relevant and thriving.

Chris Van Horne, NBCDFW

Fort Worth's libraries are turning to technology to stay relevant and thriving.

The latest addition to the Fort Worth Library System officially opened Monday afternoon after weeks of a "soft opening." Officials held a grand opening at the eSkills Center at the Meadowbrook Branch Library off of East Lancaster Avenue. The focus of the facility is job training, but it serves as a sign of what's to come at Fort Worth libraries.

Books still line the shelves at the eSkills Center, there are just far fewer shelves than in years past. Most of the books are focused on job training. Library users visit more for the Internet than the books.

The eSkills Center is the first major make over by the library system where the focus is adjusting facilities and services to what customers want and will use. Before Meadowbrook Library became the eSkills Center, most of those using the branch were there for job training and searching resources and the Internet. It is the kind of change that the library's 20/20 Vision plan looks to continue.

"Now they got more computer stations and stuff, and you don't have to wait as long, I think it's great," said James Spann, a regularly customer and local minister.

Believe it or not, library use is on the rise. Despite a 26-percent cut in operating hours and the loss of 50 or so positions, more books and materials were checked out last year than ever before.
 
"As people have less disposable income, they turn to the libraries," said Gleniece Robinson, the Library Director, who adds that the increase in library use is a national trend.

Fort Worth's 20/20 Vision will look to build on the current usage of the system by bringing facilities closer to consumers and bringing them the services they will use more frequently.

"We're trying to be more relevant in a way that doesn't cost the taxpayer a whole lot more money than they have," Robinson said. "And I think a lot of the relevancy for us will come with the use of the technology."

Librarians hope that as people come into places like the eSkills Center for computers, they will also discover books, periodicals and other services. That means the eSkills center may just be the beginning of changing the way Fort Worth libraries will look.

So far, Robinson says the plan has been met positively during public hearings because there are no closures in the plan. In fact, the plan calls for some expansion through partnerships to bring services closer to consumers.

Three more public meetings are scheduled on the plan over the next few weeks. For more information on the plan click here.

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