Payson council 1

Members of the Payson City Council and Mayor Bill Wright listen to an employee report during a meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. 

While some may wonder what the future of public libraries will look like in a digital age defined by instant access to information, the Payson City Library is doing better than it has all decade.

On Tuesday, the Payson City Council received a “State of the Library” presentation from Ann Humpherys, chair of the Payson Library Board. Humphreys told the council and Mayor Bill Wright about what the city’s librarians are doing to encourage kids to read and ensure that the library is a vital part of the community.

Libraries are about more than providing the public with access to books, Humphreys said.

“Great libraries build communities because they see the community itself as a collection,” she said. “They create new knowledge, they share knowledge, they build a community, they solve problems and really they make the whole community great.”

Last year, the library started holding “tween nights” for kids and early teenagers featuring games, movies and popcorn. They planned to have 30 or so kids in attendance for the first tween night, but nearly 90 attended.

“So it was an obvious need in the community that we are meeting now,” Humpherys said.

An “early literacy program” the library launched in 2017 has started gaining traction as well, according to Humpherys. Under the program, kids who read 1,000 books before they start kindergarten get a T-shirt from the library. A total of 57 T-shirts have been given out since 2017, Humpherys said, and 21 of those were given out last year alone.

Ensuring kids read at a young age will make them more likely to succeed in the future, Humpherys said.

“The more books you could read the earlier, that’s great,” she said.

Overall library activity, including collection item downloads, physical check-outs, computer usage and program attendance, reached a decade-long high in 2019. In 2011, just over 200,000 total services were provided by the library. In 2019, it was more than 300,000.

The library runs an average of six programs per week, according to Humpherys, who added that “attendance over time has really skyrocketed.” These programs include “Friends and Family Night,” “Gender Specific Book Clubs,” “Family Movie Night” and “Library Night Out for Adults.”

There are no publicly funded libraries at the county level in Utah County. Commissioner Nathan Ivie has said the county doesn’t fund them because, in his opinion, they are not an essential government service.

But Humphreys said high attendance and activity numbers show that the library is providing an indispensable service for Payson residents.

The library is looking to install a radio frequency identification system that would make it easier for librarians to scan and keep track of books. Library Director Dona Gay said they recently applied for a $56,000 grant to install the new system and that they were awarded half of the requested amount.

In addition to books and movies, the Payson City Library also lets residents check out metal detectors, snowshoes, paddle boards, pickleball paddles, GoPros and Chromebooks.

“This is an opportunity for people to go out and enjoy our wonderful community in a really different way than most people think of the libraries,” Humphreys said.

As Payson prepares for new development and population growth, Humphreys said the library will need to move to a new location. Also, it will need additional funding to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of printed materials, she said.

“The building is maxed out and we are landlocked,” she said, adding that “the library is definitely a key piece of the community that needs to keep pace” to provide services to new residents.

Mayor Wright agreed with this sentiment and called the library “a center of our community.”

“It’s a great library,” Councilman Brian Hulet added.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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