Allen Public Library holds a mirror to the community through programs, acquisitions and outreach.
Step into Allen Public Library any day of the week and you’ll be met with a hive-like hum of activity. Children flit from fish tank to finger puppets on the way to story time. Students swarm tables, study rooms and quiet patches of carpet, a web of laptop cords and cell phone chargers stretched to every outlet. Pages flutter as patrons scan cookbooks and craft guides, picture books and periodicals. Cookies and juice boxes fly off the shelves at Food for Thought café.
“We consider the library a community living room,” said Allen Public Library Director Jeff Timbs. “It’s a place where everyone is welcome, where people can connect and learn from each other.”
Even in a digitally-driven world, library visits are outpacing Allen’s population growth. This year, the library expects to log 420,000 visits and check out 1.4 million materials. Timbs credits an engaged community—and attentive staff—with the library’s enduring success.
“Allen citizens actively shape the library experience,” said Timbs. “In everything we do, we strive to reflect their unique interests and needs.”
Sometimes those needs are clearly vocalized, like when volunteers with the DFW Chinese-American Storytelling eGarden asked to partner on a Chinese language story time. The program, now in its second year, often attracts more participants than the children’s program room can hold.
Sometimes the process is more intuitive. Staff pay attention to patron preferences, curating displays on popular topics, beloved authors or current events. Likewise, library programs—more than 850 of them planned for 2019 alone—cater to both the masses and the margins. Residents still mastering their English can practice conversation skills in the library’s CHAT program. Homeschooled students receive group instruction in arts and science. Residents at assisted living facilities enjoy mobile programming, including book clubs and crafting events.
Soon the library will have more space for this important work. In 2015 Allen voters approved $16 million in bond funding to expand Allen Public Library, adding up to 45,000 square feet and hundreds of new parking spaces. The design phase will kick off within the next year.
“We’re aiming for something that is both functional and flexible,” said Timbs, dreaming aloud about semi-private areas for tutoring and study, along with larger program rooms. “The needs of our community are constantly evolving. And as Allen changes, so do we.”