Janine Cook-Walters is not your typical librarian. For one thing, she despises library fines. “The one demand that I make of my staff is that there will never be a person who is turned away from these doors. We can always figure something out. We have kids come in to dust shelves to work fines off instead.”
The Center Point Public Library, where Janine serves as the Director, is different from your typical library as well. Instead of the expectation of quiet, the Center Point Library is often full of conversation, singing children and chirping baby chicks; part of an interactive program that the library puts on every spring.
“I tell people that being a librarian is a lot like keeping bar, except that instead of serving up margaritas I’m serving up mysteries and material for people to check out.” And while Janine is certainly passionate about books and the ability of stories to impact lives, her commitment to truly knowing and understanding the residents of her small town seems to be the secret to her success.
“You get to know the patrons that walk through the door. We know their names, we know their likes. It’s not just the book aspect.”
Janine explains that the impact of the library in Center Point goes well beyond connecting people with interesting reading material. The library often serves as a safe space for kids to spend time after school, and as a resource for people at all stages of life. The library’s technology and human resources – both the computers and the staff and volunteers who help patrons use them – bridge any gap that exists for Center Point residents who don’t have access to the internet. Because of her ability to read the needs of the community, Janine recognized early on that the demand for the library was growing.
In late 2010, the city of Center Point released the results of a survey that indicated significant community interest in building a community center. A need to renovate and expand the existing library was also indicated, and so plans to raise funds began.
“If you walk around the library you’ll recognize that there’s a space issue,” notes Chelsea Huisman, the City Administrator. “The community center add-on is something that’s very needed for Center Point. We don’t have a place where people can have a reception or where you can rent a large meeting space. This has been a problem for a while in Center Point.”
Thanks to enthusiastic community support including a grant from the Linn County Fund at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, the library was able to break ground on their new space in March of 2015. They expect to be able to begin programming in their new community center in February of 2016.
The impact is expected to be substantial. By keeping events local, area businesses can profit from catering and other opportunities. While Janine recognizes the benefit that the center will have on the local vendors, she has other, slightly loftier intentions.
“My hope is that the biggest benefit they will get will be culturally. We can bring speakers in, we can bring music in, we can bring art shows in and really try to bring the whole community together. Having a place to host the weddings, the graduation parties and all that, that’s a huge bonus, but I guess my hope is that we’ll have a lot more cultural events, because they really do bring the community together.”
Nobody can deny that Janine Cook-Walters has had a huge impact on the Center Point Library – and by extension the Center Point community – in her time there. She believes in the library’s ability to make life better for residents of all ages and all backgrounds, and she remains firmly committed to providing programing that is responsive, innovative and engaging.
With construction well under way, the possibilities seem endless.
“I’m really excited about this. I get goosebumps every time I come into work and I see more dirt missing out of the hole – it’s actually happening.”