One used to go to a library, look through a card catalog and find a book on the shelf. Or, one would go to the reference desk and ask for a book that couldn’t be checked out.
Times have changed. The era of the Internet has brought in computers, online research and technology classes. Patrons now take out a book with a computer-activated library card and access information.
According to Kenton County Public Library Executive Director David E. Schroeder, keeping up-to-date with trends in library science and technology is essential. With a staff of 200 full-time and part-time personnel, the Covington library has over 400 computers with free access. Educational databases, eBooks and audio books are now also available. Subjects of library classes include smartphones, computers and the Microsoft Office suite. Even teens love to teach technology to adults. “Remaining current with technology needs of our patrons is an expensive challenge,” said Schroeder.
Schroeder started as a book shelver at KCPL in 1986 and worked his way up, with brief stops at Thomas More College and the Diocese of Covington. Returning to the library in 2000, he became the Kentucky history librarian.
Named executive director in 2007, Schroeder oversees three branches, Covington, Erlanger and William E. Durr in Independence as well as the administrative center in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky. A native of Ludlow, Kentucky, he has found his home at KCPL. “I had no idea I would be here,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder is also author of two books: Life Along the Ohio: A Sesquicentennial History of Ludlow, Kentucky (Little Miami Press 2014) and co-editor of Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky 1815-2015.
He is the public face of the library, visiting branches, doing presentations and public speaking engagements such as the Rotary Club. He sits on the Northern Kentucky Education Council as well as state committees. He recently met with Greg Stumbo, speaker of the house in Kentucky, and Matt Bevin, Kentucky governor, regarding the importance of a library. Schroeder also chairs the Kentucky Public Library Association Advocacy Committee. In addition, he serves as president of the Kentucky Library Association.
He has seen renovations of the Covington branch, which included a 10,000 square feet addition. This project added nine meeting rooms including a classroom and three small study rooms. Also, the children’s area was enlarged, a drive through window added and a new department, Kentucky History and Genealogy Department, was created.
KCPL is the only library in Kentucky to receive a star ranking from Library Journal, the national trade magazine. The Journal ranks libraries, using four criteria: circulation, program attendance, people entering the buildings and computer use. Only a small percentage of libraries in the nation meet its high standards. In the 2015 ranking, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County was the only other library in the region to receive the award.
Originally located in the Carnegie building constructed in 1903 at 1028 Scott Blvd. in Covington, the library gradually outgrew its space and moved to 502 Scott Blvd. in 1973. Schroeder talks about the library not just as a repository for books, but also as a community center.
“There is a demand for small study spaces,” he said. So, the library provides those as well as community programming for infants, preschool story time, free advice for businesses and entrepreneurs from members of SCORE, arts and crafts, adult book discussion, Zumba, English as a Second Language, homebound book service, assistance with tax returns, in addition to other activities.
It is also a center for workforce development with classes in resume writing and job search techniques. Job fairs are held at the three libraries. The last one attracted 900 people who were looking for work.
Sponsored by Ashland Oil, Racing to Read is a program in which a bookmobile delivers books to 40 daycare centers in Kenton County. The American Library Association has approved the curriculum.
Library staff created a Digicart, a portable technical cart, two years ago. The cart has a 3D printer, robotics, sound and video equipment. Employees use the cart for programming in the libraries and bring it to approximately 50 schools in Kenton County and community centers each year.
KCPL is the largest library in the Northern Kentucky region. “The library world is small,” said Schroeder and “well connected.” Six times per year, the Northern Kentucky Regional State Library group meets.
While Kenton County has 165,000 people, KCPL attracted 173,000 patrons last year for library or community services. The Kentucky History and Genealogy Department has regional deposits of collections from places such as St. Elizabeth Healthcare, which gave its archives from 1861 to 1943. The Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky also donated its archives. American Slave Narratives are also available.
The Northern Kentucky Genealogy Index (geNKY) features families traced to the Mayflower. Patrons can visit or contact the KCPL Kentucky History and Genealogy Department for assistance with research. Special collections include histories and photos of Emma Lee Orr Oral, a Northern Kentucky woman who braved Alaska from 1903 to 1917; archives from Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky; and Faces & Places Photograph Collection, which includes approximately 100,000 photographs from Northern Kentucky and the surrounding area.
Another feature is the Baker Hunt Collection, which contains numerous documents relating to the history of the Baker and Hunt families, the history and activities of their foundation and the history of Covington and Northern Kentucky in general. Library staff scanned over 500 documents and photos at the library, amounting to over 3,500 pages of material. Digital images are available to the public.
Of particular interest in the library are twenty-three paintings by such artists as Covington painter Frank Duveneck (1848 – 1919), Dixie Selden, (1868 – 1935), student of Duveneck, and Harlan Hubbard (1900 –1988), Bellevue, Kentucky. Their original paintings adorn the library’s walls; Mary Ran, Cincinnati gallery owner, oversees the collections.
Local history files have newspaper clippings, brochures and pamphlets, original written histories or published historical works. The William Longstreet Diaries consists of his diaries covering the years 1931 and 1933-1942, giving a snapshot of Covington’s government.
Getting started with homeschooling at the library is also an option. Homeschool teachers can apply for a special library card as an educator. Teachers can then check out 100 items, request up to 30 items on the same subject and have easy self renewal. There is also a teacher collection and book kits containing 15 copies of the same elementary-level book so that the children can all read the same book as part of a lesson.
Local taxes support the library. The average Kenton County resident pays $130 per year in taxes for the library. The Board of Trustees is appointed by the fiscal court, composed of the county judge executive and three county commissioners. Schroeder counts himself lucky to work for an organization in a growing county, where property values have increased. While the library eliminated some positions during the recession of 2008, it is back on track.
What Schroeder finds most challenging is keeping the balance among technology and such traditional items as books and programs. “We survey patrons every year,” he said to determine their priorities and Gateway Community & Technical College opened an urban campus across the street from KCPL. The library became Gateway’s official library in 2010. For Gateway, it meant that the school did not have to build a separate library and purchase a collection. For KCPL, staff can use their facilities and have access to interns from their programs.
On the day this visitor went to the library, former executive director Wayne Onkst was doing some research. He went on to become state librarian from 2006 to 2015, but recounts the expansion of the Erlanger branch as KCPL’s largest achievement.
“We exist solely to provide services to Kenton County,” said Schroeder. “It is an investment that everyone benefits from.”
502 Scott Blvd.
401 Kenton Lands Rd.
William E. Durr – Independence
1992 Walton-Nicholson Pike
Administrative Center – Lakeside Park
2171 Chamber Center