Library celebrates five years at new home

by Librarian Rachel Heinrich
Five years ago, the Ely Public Library was in the middle of big changes.
The new library building was almost complete; books and items were moving out of the old Community Center and up the alley to their new home.
Plans for a grand opening were being finalized, and library patrons had thousands of circulating items checked out to help with the move.
The library plans to have some fun activities plus refreshments on the afternoon of Nov. 12 from 2-4 p.m. to celebrate the five year anniversary of opening the doors to the public at the new building.
So, after five years, what changes has a different location brought to the library?
One big thing is the jump in library use. In 2013 (the year before the move), 63,338 items were checked out from the library; in 2018, that number had increased to 73,932 - an increase of 14% in just 5 years.
Use of the library’s computers also increased in the same period from 12,740 sessions to 37,492.
But, most dramatically, the sessions using the library’s wireless connection jumped from 3,665 to 39,572 over that same 5 year period.
Library clerk Tricia Flake also notes that people tend to stay longer in the new library “coming in to sit and read” where before they would often not linger after making book selections.
Another set of differences came from the library’s physical changes... the library now has a permanent art collection that displays work from over 30 local artists.
A “front lawn” that allows library to hold some programs outside during the warmer months.
Outdoor seating also allows patrons to take advantage of a wifi service that covers the entire library grounds or just enjoy a sunny day.
The accessible design of the main entrance makes it easier for patrons who have physical challenges to get to the library since there are no longer steps to climb.
Library Director Rachel Heinrich said that one of bright spots about the new building for the staff is no longer needing to carry multiple bins of books and other materials up a flight of stairs from the outside book return - particularly on days where snow or ice had made it difficult to access the books in the return.
Small study rooms give a private spot for patrons to work while the overall open floor plan makes it easier for the library staff to know what’s happening across the library while they are at the desk.
And, exciting new things have happened since the new library building opened.
The City of Ely partnered with Minnesota Power late last year to install a solar array on the library’s roof that powers electric car charging stations in the parking lot.
This five kilowatt solar panel installation was paid for by Minnesota Power, and any energy produced above what is used by the electric car charging stations is credited to the city.
The charging stations are rated for use to 22 degrees below zero to make them compatible with Minnesota winters, and the solar panels themselves were manufactured in Mountain Iron.
In the first year, the charging stations saw a small group of regular users through the summer and into the fall.
The Ely Library was accepted into the NASA@My Library program and became one of 75 public libraries across the United States (and the only one in Minnesota) to have NASA developed programming kits to use with their patrons. This program started a cycle of science programming for kids and adults at the library which has included a scale model of the solar system on the road between the library and Babbitt, a visit from actual lunar rocks brought back from the Apollo moon landings, night sky viewing activities, and many other great science activities. Families can check out NASA backpack kits that include books, a robotic coding toy, and a small telescope. Additional science tools for checkout - a larger telescope, a microscope, a Snap Circuit set - have also been purchased by Friends of the Ely Library using a bequest from the Merle Lunceford estate.
The library has increased and expanded its programming in general over the last five years. In 2013, the library had 91 programs with a total attendance of 2,122 of all ages. In 2018, there were 165 programs, and 3,705 people attended them. Programming is now spread more evenly across the year instead of concentrated in the summer, and the library has added special programming events - like the teen summer reading sleepover and Harry Potter late nights - outside of regular library hours. All library events are free, and Library clerk Jessie Dunn regularly tells patrons that “this is the happening place” when they are looking for something fun and free to do. The library board and staff hopes that you will stop in on November 12 to help celebrate library and what it provides the community.