BELDING — Amending budgets, managing employee hours and taking on the many challenges that face public libraries today, the responsibilities of the new Alvah N. Library director add up quickly, but ask Deb Jones about her duties and she’ll tell you she’s glad to be doing it in a community like Belding.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be at this historical library,” Jones said. “I’ve been in small towns before, but this town has been so welcoming to me and so supportive.”
Jones, who comes from Grand Rapids but now lives in Belding, was hired on Sept. 4 at the library, located at 302. E. Main St., after the retirement of previous library director Toni Jagger.
Jones brings 19 years of experience working in libraries, most recently serving as director of the South Haven Memorial Library.
“I arrive in the morning and I get to see the sunrise over the Flat River, watch the wildlife and then work with a wonderful staff,” she said. “I’m lucky.”
Jones is in charge of six other employees at the library, who she says have been crucial in helping her adapt to her new home in Belding.
“I couldn’t do this job without the wonderful staff,” she said. “They are unbelievable and so knowledgeable about Belding and this library.”
Technical Services Clerk Betty Jenkins, who has worked at the library for 37 years, said while Jones is new to the area, she is steadily becoming familiar with the city and the community.
“It’s been a joy meeting her and introducing her to our wonderful patrons in this community,” Jenkins said. “We’re a small town and it’s different from what she is used to, but I think she is fitting in well.”
Jones said she first had a desire to work in libraries after graduating from Central Michigan University with a degree in education. But with a weak job market and the challenge to find a position as a teacher proving to be too much, she returned to school and followed her passion of reading.
Jones has since worked as a media specialist, teacher and library director in several communities throughout Michigan.
Surrounded by books and members of the community seeking something to read, Jones said she couldn’t be happier with her responsibilities.
“I have a great passion for reading and love to be able to share that,” she said. “You can’t force someone to read, but you can teach them to read. You’ll never be bored if you continue to read.”
Belding Mayor Ron Gunderson, who sits on the Alvah N. Belding Library Board as a council liaison, said Jones has been a good addition to the library staff and he has been pleased with her desire to share her love of reading.
“It was easy to see when I first met Deb that she was very much a people person and enjoyed sharing her love her books and media with patrons and the staff of the library,” Gunderson said. “The one thing that Deb wants most of all is to increase the number of patrons using the library and having the library open as much as is financially feasible. Deb is not only a welcome addition to the belding library but also to the city of Belding.”
While she enjoys her job, Jones admits that tough economic times have not been kind to public libraries and the challenge to stay ahead of the curve to keep the library up-to-date with technology is fiscally challenging.
“Keeping up with what the public wants and keeping up with technology have been the biggest challenges,” she said. “Your community dictates your (book) collections, you need to get what the people in your community want.”
With the recent one-to-one iPad program implemented in the Belding Area Schools system, Jenkins said the library has seen an increase in students visitors who come to connect to the free wireless Internet service offered by the library.
“We’ve been very busy, and now that the kids have their iPads at school, they have been coming and connecting to our wireless internet to do schoolwork,” she said.
Jones said the library has an open door policy and she gladly accepts suggestions from members of the community, but with the reduced hours and salaries for employees across the board that were implemented this summer, it has become more difficult to please the public.
“We now close at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” she said. “It breaks my heart to see people knock on the front door and have to turn them away.”
Jones said she has made it a priority to strive to find a way to restore hours and wages for all employees at the library.
“That’s a huge goal of mine, to replace those open hours and get staff hours and wages back,” she said.
Jones said the library recently celebrated a grant and donation that have aided in the funding of the library’s summer youth program as well as repairs on the outside of the building.
The Robert C. Reinhardt Library Fund recently awarded the library with a grant in the amount of $17,400 to be used to repair the limestone foundation in front of the building. An additional $2,000 from the Stockton Charitable Foundation was donated to the library to fund the summer youth program, which operates on a yearly budget of $500.
“We wouldn’t exist without memorials and donations,” Jones said. “People in this community are very generous in that regard.”
With free wireless Internet, computers for use, thousands of books and many other resources, Jones hopes the Belding community will continue to support the library as she has noticed in her brief three months at the library.
“Whether it’s checking your email, searching for a job online, needing help with resumes and applications or just wanting to sit and read a book, we’re here for the community,” she said.