The Victoria Public Library Goes High-tech to Serve Every Generation of Library-goers

Victoria branch turns conventional notions about public libraries on its head.

Suzi Stephenson is a full-time Carver County library technology assistant, and she’s what library director Heidi Hoks calls “the keeper of knowledge.”

A couple decades ago, one may have received tentative glances when talking about building a library that was more about sharing ideas than stocking shelves. But the Victoria Public Library—dubbed the county’s “Technology Library”—focuses on learning and exploration for all ages and through all media.

There are the familiar public computers—used for so much more than accessing the online catalog—and there are a bevy of devices, DVDs and e-books available for checkout. Regular events—onsite and scattered throughout the community—include classes on 3D printing, dancing and home brewing and tutorials on how to use an iPad, LinkedIn or Etsy.

Hoks is quick to add, “There are still books. People love books!” However, people’s library and learning tendencies have changed, and libraries are adjusting. Adults tend to stick to specific topics or favorite authors, says Hoks, so the library relies heavily on interlibrary loans from the county’s 10 library sites to accommodate book requests. “Kids still love to browse,” she says, so don’t assume titles courtesy of authors Dr. Seuss, Judy Blume and Lois Lowry are going anywhere.

In 2013, the American Library Association formed the Center for the Future of Libraries to “identify trends in libraries and the communities they serve,” Hoks explains. The new Victoria model—which opened in March 2015—followed the idea of the library as an “incubator for ideas, so we’re getting away from circulation as the only measure of success,” she says. Even Ben Franklin envisioned his revolutionary public library as a “great equalizer,” says Holks—“a public gathering place, where everyone was welcome and there was an open exchange of ideas.”

Victoria, with a growing population and a central location, was the perfect spot for a technology-centered library, where full-time technology experts like Stephenson can engage and educate the community, both the “digital natives and digital immigrants alike,” Hoks says. The new offerings have helped to foster online and multimedia learning among even the most technophobic visitors. “People come in with devices still in boxes—they’re terrified of them,” she says.

There was also a survey of local teens and young adults, who said the video game Minecraft was high on their list of interests and desires for expanded library programming. Stephenson, an active gamer herself, was happy to oblige by creating regular gaming events. “There’s lots of digital literacy that comes with Minecraft—people can build, create and even destroy things in this created world,” Stephenson says. “We hear from people all the time who hear ‘library’ and think, ‘Books. Storytime. But 3D printing? Video games? We never knew’,” Stephenson says. “I say ‘Yes, we do have that,’ and we want to be there for them.”  

Check it out!

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Happy Hour is from 4-6 p.m. Tuesdays for ages 9 and up. Depending on the week, participants might create videos with a green screen or a stop-motion camera or crochet and create sculptures with a 3D printer. The library's Suzi Stephenson keeps a closet full of retired computers and small appliances. “They can pull things apart and see the guts of a computer," she says. "They love it.”

Visit carverlib.org for a calendar of events, to schedule a one-on-one training session or to access a list of devices and media available for checkout.