“We are looking to not be associated with the word book but (instead) the word community,” said branch manager Zoe Oakes. “We want to be the community hub… pathway to get you where you need to go.”
The journey to get to this mission is as storied as the library itself. It was started in 1894 as an adult-focused, reading-orientated paid service that cost $1 per year. After five moves to different buildings around Franklin’s downtown, they finally settled into the 12th Street spot in 1922.
From there, the library started expanding its services and reach. They added a children’s reading room in the basement and became a free service. An ever-expanding circulation meant two additions were built. To this point, the library’s focus remained on offering books for Franklin Area School District residents.
Then almost 30 years ago a major plot twist happened – computers and the internet become more mainstream. In 1997, the library added its first computers geared toward public use and really started to redefine its mission to include community service beyond books.
While the library continues to offer several typical reading programs, it is the other clubs and offerings that have become very popular. “That has been one thing that there has been more of a demand for,” Oakes said of the non-reading centered programming.
In an official congratulations from Sen. Scott Hutchinson and the Pennsylvania Senate, it is noted that “to its great credit, the library has hosted art and flower shows, club meetings, speakers and museum exhibits, and it was the home to the Franklin Historical Society for a period of time.”
The notion takes into account how partnerships have become a major theme of the library’s latest chapter.
First it was under the umbrella of the Oil Region Library Association. Franklin, Oil City and Cooperstown libraries share books, resources, and staff. This means they can all do more “rather than duplicate each other,” Oakes explained.
For Franklin, that means a focus of teen programming that includes offering Oculus virtual reality systems that can be borrowed for several weeks at a time. “We have been really beefing up what teens can do (through the library),” she said.
Sharing staff means librarians get to know the greater community they are serving and help pass on the word about the unique offerings at each location.
That collaborative attitude extends to other community-minded organizations as well.
The local CareerLink office uses the Franklin library to teach computer and resume writing skills and meet with clients. Paws 4 a Cause visits with their therapy dogs twice a month. And the library advisory board has set up an entire series of programs with different speakers each week.
Community Conversations kicked off June 23 and is currently scheduled to continue from 5 to 6 p.m. nearly every Thursday through August. Oakes described the series as a talk among attendees and not a debate.
“It is our hope that with every conversation we have one or two more people who want to lead (a talk),” Oakes said, explaining that the series will continue as long as their interest to lead and attend.
“Through its rich history, the Franklin Public Library has grown and flourished due to strong visionary leadership, a deep belief in the power of the written word and an environment which promotes education, entertainment and achievement for each citizen in the community,” said the Senate congratulations dated June 22.
Library invites public to have Community Conversations
The Franklin Public Library will continue its series of Community Conversations later this month.
The series includes a variety of topics that will be covered through talking, not debating, said library branch manager Zoe Oakes.
A new topic will be covered from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday in the second-floor community room.
The first conversation “Why Was I Born Black?” was led by Major Smith and drew more than 20 participants.
"We were tickled with the turnout," Oakes said.
Additional conservations planned for July and August include the following:
The library is hoping to add more sessions in the coming months and is looking for volunteers to lead the discussions. If there is a topic you would like to present at a Community Conversation, please contact the Franklin Public Library at 814-432-5062 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a move that seems to bring things back to their origin, the ORLA is looking to acquire a Bookmobile and take the books back to the people. “We brought the library out into the digital world but there’s still those people who want a book,” Oakes said. “We are all about access.”
To find out more about the library programs – find them online at the ORLA website, Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel.
(Story written by Jill Harry)