Resources to Further Learning

The Johnson County Central Resource Library is modernizing the way people learn.

Sami Jansen, Writer

The Johnson County Central Resource Library, which houses 20 percent of Johnson County’s materials, continues to evolve into a more diverse and reliable place of knowledge. First opened at the Overland Park location in 1994, the Central library has been aiding the community through its materials, helpful staff and quiet atmosphere for the last 22 years.

“One of the library strategic goals is digital literacy and trying to get the community to teach each other how to use different technologies and softwares,” said Monica Duffield, Branch Manager for the Central Resource Library.

The newly hired and returning staff at the Central Resource Library are focused on being able to answer visitors’ questions and to provide them with the information they need.

“You can ask the staff any question, whether it’s about your account or paying your fines or directions to something, or basic technology questions. Our hope is that when you come in the building everybody should be able to answer whatever the original question is, and if we can’t, we can point you to our colleges,” Duffield said .

Changes in the library were made with the goal of creating a collaborative atmosphere that would aid community education and a flexible layout to make the library easier to navigate. Additions such as the study rooms, upgraded electrical service and Black & Veatch MakerSpace have already promoted community involvement.

The visible changes to the library have been monumental, but it’s the changes not visible to the public that have become the most noticeable. The addition of a new HVA system has provided a comfortable atmosphere to visitors, and new electrical wiring has given the library the capability of putting outlets in places they could not have before .

“We are a heating center in the winter and a cooling center in the summer. I don’t know if people realize it or not, but the poverty level in Johnson County is rising, and so we do have people who spend their whole day here […] and so having that additional comfort where you can just come in and relax, to me that’s one of the biggest differences,” Duffield said.

The new electrical wiring, called thread, is small enough to slip under the carpet and can be wired almost anywhere in the general vicinity. Outlet poles by tables are powered by the thread and allow visitors to plug in devices while studying.

“You can come in here on Saturday and there will be no empty chairs. People bring in their own device and plug it in using our own outlets,” Duffield said.

The front of the library is now home to the Training Lab, a reservable space where non-profit groups can teach their volunteers how to use social media for promotion. Other reservable rooms dedicated to study groups are available and vary in size. The rooms are in use most of the time and can be booked for two hours up to three months before meetings.

“There are very few places that offer meeting space you don’t have to pay for, so that was one of the reasons to have the small 2 person study rooms and some are 5 and 6 for bigger groups,” Duffield said.

Across from the entrance, a Friends bookstore has opened. It is the third and largest bookstore featured in Johnson County libraries, and has a coffee shop which offers their signature library blend of coffee, ‘Freedom of Espresso’.  

Computers that used to be scattered throughout the library have been confined to a single location and now feature rows with dual monitors.

“The duel monitors are an experiment for this building; some people like them, some people don’t. We have noticed people that prefer the doubles are doing some kind of intense research,”  Duffield said.

The MakerSpace has been a unique addition that provides the community with a charge-free way to learn new skills not usually available to the public. The staff assigned to the MakerSpace has the knowledge to get anyone started on a project but also enjoys seeing people share their knowledge with each other.

“The point of the MakerSpace is collaborative, in that people come together to work on projects and/or to teach each other to use these sorts of things. So you could walk in and totally know everything there is to know about green room and sound editing, and if somebody else was in there that didn’t know so much, it is perfectly acceptable to offer your expertise,” Duffield said.

Tools featured in the MakerSpace include a sewing machine, green room, sound equipment, digital editing studio, vinyl cutter, laser cutter and 3-D printer.

All changes have modernized the library and supplied the community with a variety of resources and hands-on experiences to further their knowledge.

“That’s kind of the larger goal I’d say, is that libraries are all about helping people experience things, whether it’s for personal enjoyment, or evolvement or engagement—leveling the playing field so it’s available for everyone,” Duffield said.