The East Baton Rouge Parish Library is nothing if not resilient. Its evolving business model has enabled it to stay relevant in the face of an increasingly digitized, on-line society. Mary Stein, assistant library director, says the opening of the new downtown River Center Branch this Spring accentuates that point.
“The new branch is wonderful,” she says. “The building is in a prime location in downtown Baton Rouge, so there’s not a bad view anywhere in that building. It feels fresh, it feels welcoming. It’s a marvelous space that allows us to do the things that we do best, which is bring people together and provide access to resources.”
AT A GLANCE
Public library, which provides free, daily access to business resources, online databases, Wi-Fi and much more
Spencer Watts, Director; Kristen Edson, Deputy Library Director; Patricia Husband, Assistant Director; Mary Stein, Assistant Director
Year founded: 1939
In the process, the library is increasing its focus on certain niche-specific offerings. Andrew Tadman, the library’s reference services coordinator, is always on the lookout for new options to share with the business community. “Over the past two years, we’ve developed the Small Business Service, which creates a concierge experience for small business owners who need access to our amazing resources,” Tadman says. It provides the business community with unparalleled access to a variety of tools and resources that can help either a startup or existing company.
While there, new business owners can check out the small business infoguide for a quick guide to its resources, or head to the Gale Small Business Builder to work on a business plan, perform preliminary market research, set up financial records and track their growth. Or they can access the Gale Small Business Resource Center for information on everything from taxes to handling human resources issues and performing market research.
Technology is central to the process. The library has invested significantly in upgrading its Wi-Fi at all branches (it had 1.8 million Wi-Fi logins in 2019). Of course, there’s also an abundance of small and large meeting rooms. “People use our collaborative spaces for videoconferencing, meetings, etc.,” Stein adds.
In a nutshell, the library provides access to a variety of free tools that can’t easily be found elsewhere. Stein says. “This is a great community investment—we can help you save time and money.”
Most notably, the new River Center Branch Library will offer a new “makerspace” and sound media lab. In the multi-purpose makerspace, participants will be able to create first-time 3D prototypes, among a host of other things, and classes will cover topics ranging from small engine repair to robotics to jewelry design.
The sound media lab is multipurpose as well, and can be used to create a music score, record a podcast etc. “We’ve been teaching things like that to teenagers for years, and adults are getting in on the action, too,” Stein says.
She says all of these changes mesh nicely with the library’s overarching goal—to encourage learning and create a better quality of life. “We want our citizens to feel that there’s always something new to discover and explore, and the library is a perfect place to safely dip your toe into lots of different things.”