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Colfax library gains access to county funding, looks to expand hours

Published: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 10:23 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 11:38 a.m. CDT
(Anthony Victor Reyes/Jasper County Tribune)
Colfax Public Library director Jill Miller, right and children's librarian, Diane Ellens, left, man the front desk Thursday, April 6. The library plans to extend its hours of operation after it was approved to receive county funding this year.
(Anthony Victor Reyes/Jasper County Tribune)
Library patron, Aaron DePriest, right, and his friends play a game of Magic: The Gathering Thursday afternoon at Colfax Public Library.
(Anthony Victor Reyes/Jasper County Tribune)
Colfax Public Library, 25 W. Division St., typically opens at 2 p.m. weekdays. After it was approved to receive county funding this year, the library hopes to open at 9 a.m. three days of the week.

COLFAX – The internet has become unquestionably one of the most important tools in our lives. From posting a photo on Facebook to paying monthly utility bills, people of all ages have become dependent on the internet.

Now, it is arguably one of the most crucial services in our lives.

For some Jasper County residents, they have become reliant on the Colfax Public Library for internet access, waiting for the library to open its door at 2 p.m. so they can connect to the web. Luckily for those library patrons, the library will soon be opening earlier to help accommodate this need.

“We are going to get about $19,000 from the county. That will help fill in our budget,” Colfax Public Library director Jill Miller said. “We (hope we) will be able to be open for more morning hours to make the public access computers available to people during those hours.”

This upcoming fiscal year, Colfax Public Library decided to accept funding dollars from Jasper County to help support the library’s budget.

“This was decided quite a long time ago, before I was on the board or a director. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I think it was decided in the early (1980)s. Colfax decided to opt out of county funding because they were afraid the county would tell them what they had to do. They didn’t want to have that happen,” Miller said. “We just decided it was time to get our share of the county money because we have rural residents.”

According to the librarian, the process started about one year ago. The Jasper Public Library Association approved the Colfax facility’s request to receive funding from the county.

“We already have the building and are already heating and cooling it. We might as well be open more hours,” she said. “We are the second largest town in Jasper County and we have the fourth amount of hours, exceeded by Baxter and Monroe. We want to get it up there from 28 hours to about 33 hours a week.”

Miller said the funding is going to come in just in time, as more and more of her patrons come in to go online.

“We want to be available for people because now, everything has to be done on the internet — applying for jobs, printing off documents, making copies. The Colfax library has the only public access computers in Colfax,” she said “I have a lot of people who use our Wi-Fi for their cell phones. I have people who stand outside, who don’t want to come in, but they still use our Wi-Fi. That’s okay.”

From the expensive cost to the possible lack of access due to a home’s location, the librarian said some patrons rely the library in order to pay their bills or to filling out government forms.

“I had a man coming here on a regular basis. He would come in at 2 p.m. and get on the computer. I didn’t really know what he was doing, but after about five or six weeks, he came in and told us that he had gotten hired. He got a job out at Kum & Go. He had to come in to do certification to be able to sell alcohol and cigarettes. He had to do that on the computer also,” Miller said. “Without our internet access, he wouldn’t have been able to apply for the job.”

The library director said their adult patrons are not the only residents who benefit from the library’s free internet service.

“We are a safe haven for kids after school. They come here a lot to use the phone. When they get out early, they come here. I have board games, I have iPads for them to get on and a Kindle Fire,” Miller said. “I am glad to be there for them, as long as they are not disruptive.”

Kids, including 17-year-old Aaron DePriest, also find themselves spending a large portion of their free time hanging out at the library and using its computers.

“We do Zelda (on the Nintendo Switch). We use the computers upstairs. We play Magic (The Gathering). We do Yu-Gi-Oh!” he said. “I come here for the Wi-Fi, the computers and check-out a few books. It is just a good place to be.

Although a large portion of the funding will be used to compensate library staff during the expanded hours, this county funding will also be used to expand several other services the library offers.

“I would like to become handicap accessible, which would acquire an addition. So that’s a few years down the road,” she said. “We would like to have more programming, additional computers and a fax service. We are always asked about a fax service.”

One of the programs the library offers its residents is Toddler Story Time, which is offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday mornings. During this program, the children’s librarian, Diane Ellens, does a variety of activities with the children, including singing songs, crafts and reading stories together.

“It is important for the kids to see how fun (reading) is,” Ellens said. “I have one little girl who calls it her school time. Her mom says, ‘She loves going to school. She always has to go to the library school.’ She looks forward to it every week.”

According Miller, the library is always looking to add new programs to offer its patrons, no matter their age.

“People need the services,” she said. “If we have the funding to do that and the man power, we will definitely be open to doing that.”

Miller said she is currently working on a grant from the Jasper Community Foundation to get new computers and add one more public access computer to the library.

“We are kind of limited on space, but I want to have four. Right now, I only have three,” she said. “Hopefully that works out.”

The library is currently open from 2 to 8 p.m. Monday, from 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. Miller said she hopes to expand the library’s hours from 9 to 11 a.m. during three mornings in the week.

“It will be nice to have it open in the morning, before I go to work. It is pretty cool,” DePriest said. “I like the atmosphere of knowledge.”

For more information, visit colfax.lib.ia.us or call 515-674-3625.

Contact Anthony Victor Reyes at areyes@jaspercountytribune.com

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