When Sue Sharp began as Bettendorf's Public Library director in July of 2013, a long-planned, $1.5 million renovation project was just about to launch.
Although space allocations already had been made, they were still open for revision, and Sharp had a suggestion. How about a 'maker space'?
This was a new thing for libraries — it was being written about in journals and the library in Ankeny was adding one. Neither Sharp nor anyone involved with the library could predict how it would go over, but they decided to give it a shot.
Dubbed Creation Studio, the 208-square-foot space that opened on the library's main level in 2015 went over VERY well.
"The response was incredible," Sharp said one recent day. When 60 to 70 people showed up for the new programming made possible by a studio in which people could make things, the library had to schedule additional drop-in times to accommodate all the interest. In addition to providing space, the room was equipped with a 3-D printer, sewing machines and other tools.
The Creation Studio is one of many happy accomplishments Sharp can look back on as she begins her last six months in Bettendorf. She has submitted her resignation, effective April 1, and a search for her replacement is underway.
She stresses that none of the accomplishments would have been possible without the library's dedicated and creative staff that currently includes 21 full-time and 23 part-time employees.
"It's really important to understand," she said. "You really need a team to do all the amazing things that have been accomplished over the years."
This teamwork also extends to city administration, the library board, the library foundation and the Friends group.
What's next for the library
In looking forward, two major developments are in the offing, Sharp said.
First, a second Creation Studio has been built in the second floor Norm Kelison Room, named after a long-time library board member, that will have a grand opening once COVID-19 allows that to safely happen.
At 1,161 square feet, it is more than five times the size of the original space. It has a hard surface floor, wet sink, storage, mobile furniture and digital projection that can be used for movie viewing.
And it will be stocked with "a pretty robust list of equipment," Sharp said.
This includes a laser cutter, 3D printers, a poster printer, a green screen and video equipment and audio and video conversion equipment.
The goal is to expand library programs and to offer space to the public to work independently on their own projects.
Second, just before COVID-19 hit, the library was ready to embark on a facilities space needs assessment; a consultant had been hired to study how the library is using its space and to make recommendations for any changes.
"Library services are evolving and we want to make sure our facility is being used to its greatest potential," Sharp said.
The study is on hold, but will move to front-burner when travel and in-person meetings are safe.
Challenges during the last 7 1/2 years
Two challenges staff worked with during Sharp's tenure included the burst water pipe that flooded the second floor and and some other areas in May of 2016, and the restrictions imposed this spring by Gov. Kim Reynolds to deal with COVID-19, including closure.
The COVID-19 challenge was two-fold: figure out ways to keep patrons safe when the library could reopen AND figure out ways to deliver virtual programs, because even though the library has now re-opened, in-person programs still aren't being offered.
To prepare for reopening, all sorts of measures were implemented, including a "no contact" pick up and drop off of materials; spacing out of computers for social distancing; installation of barrier tape to show where to walk for social distancing, and installation of plexiglass between staff and the public.
Other accomplishments in the past 7 1/2 years
• Completing the renovation. In addition to the makers space, this included a new children's area, a gas fireplace, changes in the lobby and information-circulation area and expansion and sound-proofing of study rooms.
• Upgrades to Faye's Field, the large outdoor space next to the library.
• Development of a new website and expansion of social media outreach including Facebook and Instagram.
• Renovations to The Quad, the teen area.
• All kinds of programs. Many will remember the "Eclipse Party" in 2017 that drew tons of people because libraries were one of the few places where people could get the glasses that safely allowed them to look at the sun.
Also, the summer Concert Series in Faye's Field. When the series began it attracted about 100 people, on average. Last year there were times when there were 800, Sharp said.
"And it's all free," Sharp said of the library's services. "Any person of any background can come and attend. There are no barriers."
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!