By Susan Roberts, Extension/Children's Services Coordinator Mansfield/Richland County Public Library
When Mansfield/Richland County Public Library joined NEO-RLS in 2006, our system had not been a member of a Regional for years. While some staff members had occasionally participated in continuing education opportunities hosted by Regionals, we hadn’t had any recent experience with the other benefits of belonging to a Regional. And, since I had come to Mansfield from another state that didn’t have Regionals, I had no personal knowledge of what they could offer members. I have been overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of the services available to us through our membership.
NEO-RLS continuing education has been incredibly valuable. Staff has attended a multitude of different workshops on every aspect of library work, including management, reference, children’s programming, readers’ advisory, security issues, and new technology. You name it, there’s been a workshop or discussion about it! Because many of the workshops have been offered online or as teleconferences for very little or no fee, we’ve been able to utilize our limited continuing education funds to have the maximum number of people attend training.
This continuing education has led to several positive changes at our library. For example, a Youth Symposium in 2007 gave staff information about reorganizing easy reader books in a way that would better help children who are just learning to read. Our subsequent reorganization of that collection led to a 27% increase in circulation, and more importantly, appreciation from parents and teachers who find that their new readers are getting the books that they need and want. This kind of change would not have happened except for the continuing education offered by NEO-RLS.
Another major benefit of being a member of a Regional has been the access to services that we normally would not have been able to afford. Through NEO’s video game circuit, which is a rotation of games purchased and maintained by NEO staff, our library has been able to offer games to our customers. The cost per game to us yearly is $6.25. Our staff circulates the games but doesn’t have the added burden of purchasing, maintaining and permanently housing them. This has been a wonderful way for us to offer a service that otherwise probably wouldn’t exist. The power of cooperative purchasing is a real boon, especially to medium and small libraries.Finally, membership in NEO-RLS has given us many opportunities to network and share information with colleagues across the region, including with the knowledgeable NEO-RLS staff. This benefit is the most intangible but no less valuable. No one can know everything, and no one library can do everything. Our membership in NEO-RLS has allowed M/RCPL to have access to training, expertise and services that have increased our value to our customers. Regionals improve library services across the state and that ultimately benefits us all.