Beulah and Benzonia libraries up for August 2 millage vote
By Greta Bolger
“I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture, and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.” —Carl Sagan, American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, and science communicator
Let me start with a confession. My lifelong love affair with words and stories and ideas has been flagrantly encouraged and enabled by libraries. From Mary Poppins to Bernard Malamud, from Huck Finn to Jonathan Franzen, my worldview and imagination have been shaped and enriched by the treasures found in libraries. And I’m not alone.
Libraries have long been a vital part of our democracy, providing access to information, knowledge, and entertainment to everyone, from the elementary student researching a science project to the teenager studying the finer points of anatomy to the senior citizen relaxing in the periodical room with the latest issue of The New Yorker. And as ever-expanding communications technology and channels of information have revolutionized our world, brick-and-mortar libraries have become even more essential to the life of our communities.
Nowhere is this truer than in the libraries of Benzie County.
Out of the more than 16,500 public libraries in the United States (more than the total number of McDonald’s fast-food joints, by the way), we are very fortunate to have both the Darcy Library in Beulah and the Benzonia Public Library (BPL) to serve the eastern part of the county with innovative services and programming that are keeping pace with the changes in the ways that we work, learn, communicate, and recreate.
The fate of many of the services and programs offered by these two libraries rests in the hands of the 2,329 registered voters of Benzonia Township—only 862 of which showed up for the February 2016 presidential primary. (For reference, Benzonia Township is Benzie County’s second-largest township in terms of both total population and registered voters, trailing Almira Township by about 600 voters and ahead of Homestead and Inland townships by about 400 and 700, respectively.)
The August 2 election ballot in Benzonia Township will feature a proposal to renew the existing 0.6 mill levy that is split evenly between Benzonia Public Library and Darcy Library of Beulah. Benzonia Township voters approved the original millage request in May 2011, and this ballot proposal is to renew the existing millage for another 10 years—it is important to point out that this is not a millage increase, since residents have already been paying it for the past five years.
At present, the millage provides 56 percent of the operating income for the two libraries. It is estimated that a levy of 0.6 mills would generate close to $125,000 in its first year, according to the official ballot proposal.
Our Community Values Its Libraries
A 2015 survey of close to 300 people clearly indicated that the residents of Benzonia Township and surrounding areas highly value the wide range of services offered by both libraries. The creative blending of traditional library offerings with continuous efforts to innovate is a hallmark of both BPL and Darcy.
It’s true, libraries are not what they used to be—they’re all of that, and a whole lot more, with a multitude of options for the people of Benzie County to learn, grow, and having fun doing it.
In addition to a great selection of books of all kinds, for all ages—including an always-fresh collection of recent fiction and non-fiction titles—the Darcy and Benzonia libraries also offer audio and large print books and CDs and DVDs for loan. Current issues of several newspapers and magazines can be enjoyed onsite in comfortable reading spaces that are available at both libraries. Reference materials and items from each library’s unique special collections can also be accessed onsite.
In addition, interlibrary loans and access to a large selection of eBooks are available at both libraries, with library professionals available to assist with the process of obtaining the desired titles.
Moreover, both the Darcy and Benzonia libraries each have eight public computers, providing a “digital bridge,” which is so important to those who lack Internet access in their homes. These computers are used daily by residents and visitors alike to take classes, apply for jobs, file unemployment claims, conduct research, learn new skills, and participate in social media—all free of charge.
This is a very important service for Benzie County, as there is a very distinct digital divide between those with access and those without. Not to mention that options for high-speed Internet for many Benzie County residents and businesses are limited or non-existent.
“While many residents enjoy relatively robust Internet service, connection speeds can vary dramatically, especially in the summer months, when Benzie’s population climbs and service slows noticeably,” writes Sarah Lucas of Networks Northwest in the Traverse City Record Eagle.
Until county and other community leaders can find ways to expand Internet service (and boost speeds) to under-served parts of Benzie County—an issue which leaders are currently working on—the computers and Wi-Fi at both the Darcy and Benzonia libraries will be invaluable.
Collaboration, Not Duplication
The two libraries work together on many popular programs, and each also offers unique programming of its own. The “Off The Page” literary series, a joint effort of the two libraries, hosts several presentations by well-known authors throughout the summer. This year’s program includes Angela Flournoy, author of Turner House, a National Book Award Finalist, as well as Petoskey-born W. Bruce Cameron, creator of Rudy McCann, Kalkaska repo man and amateur detective in The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man and Repo Madness. (Flournoy already presented earlier this year; Cameron will present at the Mills Community House on Thursday, August 25 at 7 p.m.)
A 2016 showcase program for the Benzonia Public Library, “Making and Learning,” will take place August 16-18, from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. each day. This professional workshop—presented by the School of Information at the University of Michigan—is on the cutting edge of the nationwide “Maker Movement,” which trains and equips teachers, mentors, artists, and others to customize and introduce maker programs to schools, libraries, community and daycare centers, scout troops, and civic groups. These programs are designed to explore the intersection of STEAM—science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. The free three-day workshop will include a variety of hands-on activities from 3D printing and modeling to wool spinning and garage tinkering. Continuing Education credits are available, and you can sign up for this free workshop at MakingLibraries.si.umich.edu/road-trip. The three days will also include a Benzonia MakerFest for families on Wednesday, August 17 from 6-8 p.m. that will offer hands-on activities in glass etching, 3D printing, and circuit building.
Among the unique programming at the Darcy Library is the new “Cooks and Books,” a true example of community building that is offered in conjunction with the nonprofit Grow Benzie. Each month, a binder of recipes from a chosen cookbook is placed on the counter at the library. Patrons choose a recipe to prepare and sign up for the event. On the third Tuesday of each month, participants gather at Grow Benzie to cook dinner together and to share the dishes they have prepared. It is a great way to meet other cooks, enjoy a delicious communal meal, and learn new recipes and cooking techniques. (I look forward to trying this out soon!)
Book Sales, Puzzle Sale, Ice Cream Social
One of my favorite things about both the Darcy and Benzonia libraries—besides their always helpful and welcoming staff members—is their great selection of used books offered for sale ($1 for paperbacks and $2 for hard covers) on an ongoing basis, as well as at-large public book sales each year. (Darcy’s next sale is August 5-6 at the trailhead in Beulah; Benzonia will host a book sale on August 20 and a puzzle sale on September 10).
Another great event is the ice cream social, with this year’s soirée in Benzonia on August 7 from 1:30-4 p.m. This old-fashioned event benefits youth services at BPL.
Youth Programming from Tots to Teens
Both libraries offer extensive youth programming. In Benzonia, there is Baby Play Time with Miss Mary Kaye and the Summer Reading Program, which features performances by the hilarious Benzonia Public Library puppets, followed by hands-on creative and learning activities.
Young people and their parents will also find a wide variety of activities at the Darcy Library in Beulah, including The Writers Club and Star Wars Movie Week (July 26-28); “Read to Rosie,” the therapy dog, for new readers; and Family Storytime with Ashley for children ages two to five.