Library to host 20th anniversary celebration


Twenty years ago, community members formed a chain across Fifth Street to pass every book in the Seward Public Library, in order, to its spot on the shelves at the brand-new Seward Memorial Library.

Much has changed since then, but the goal of the library has remained the same: to be a relevant resource for the community.

The library will hold a 20th anniversary party from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 10. All are invited for cake, giveaways, trivia and prizes, and to explore newly renovated spaces in the building.

“This gives the staff a chance to say thank you to the public for 20 years of support in this building,” Library Director Becky Baker said.

Before the current building at 233 South Fifth Street was built, the books lived across the street in the Carnegie building, constructed in 1913 with funds from the Carnegie Library Commission started by Andrew Carnegie.

The building was small and didn’t keep up with the needs of the growing Seward Community, according to the Seward Library Foundation’s history of the building:

“The original library building was overcrowded, provided minimal accessibility, had restricted parking, limited storage and cramped space. When compared to 20 communities of similar size, Seward ranked first in rate of circulation, for both adult and childrens’ books, but ranked last in library square footage.”

The Foundation spent 13 years raising money and acquiring the land partly through a sale and partly by donation. Sampson Construction was hired to build the facility in 2002, and the doors opened to the public on Sept. 2, 2003, “on schedule and below budget.”

The lower level was finished 10 years later, adding a second conference room, kitchen, meeting and study rooms, a die cut room and genealogy room.

“That happened way faster than I thought it would,” Baker said.

The adult fiction collection moved downstairs, which gave all areas of the collection room to grow, including children’s books, junior fiction, young adult literature, videos and DVDs, audiobooks and magazines.

Baker said the building allows many more opportunities for the community that just weren’t feasible in the Carnegie building.

“We’re thrilled to have room to do programs in this building, such as Craig Johnson coming up on Oct. 8, Alex Kava and other Nebraska authors coming on the 22nd of October,” she said. “It’s very nice to be able to welcome them into our building – into the community’s building.”

Author visits were a big part of the building’s inaugural year, too.

“We had a lot of author visits 20 years ago. This year we’re having a lot of authors. I think that appeal remains, and we’re excited about that,” Baker said.

The library is funded largely through city tax dollars, making memberships free for those who live within the city limits. Those who live outside of Seward can purchase a membership, and additional support comes from the Friends of Seward Library and the Seward Library Foundation.

Those organizations have made possible recent renovations to the building, including the repurposing of the technology lab, which once housed 16 computers for public use.

“Technology has changed. So many people have their own devices, the computer lab was now obsolete,” Baker said.

The library still has two desktops and three laptops available for the public to use in other areas of the building.

The lab was converted into office spaces, which opened up other areas for the Library of Things, which houses yard games, fitness equipment, tools, instruments and other items that may be checked out.

“The yard games have been overwhelmingly popular,” Baker said.

The library has several other unique collections, including board games for all ages, puzzles and novelty cake pans, as well as a “book nook” where patrons may take home books to keep in exchange for a donation to the Friends.

Over the past decade, the library has added ebooks and digital audiobooks to its offerings, along with digital magazines and music.

“The publishing world is different. The print magazine world is different,” Baker said, noting that eventually, the library will phase out its CDs and DVDs because of the rise in popularity of streaming services.

“We’re getting the building ready for what’s next,” she said. “We want to make the west entrance usable with lockers for pick-up wen we’re not open so patrons have round-the-clock access to materials. We want to upgrade the technology in the lower-level conference center to make it very easy with less staff involvement. We want to put technology in the three meeting rooms downstairs to make them more user-friendly.”

While some libraries have switched to self-checkout machines, Baker said she doesn’t foresee that happening in Seward.

“The library’s one place you can still talk to a person, and I think a lot of our patrons like that,” she said. “It’s a place for everyone, and a generally calm place. We’re just trying to stay relevant in an increasingly technological world.”