Thirty years ago, the Dobson Ranch Library in Mesa opened its doors to a community eager for all it had to offer.
It was ahead of its time – trading catalogues for then high-tech computers, automating the checkout process just before the imminent transition to the digital age.
The library faced its fair share of hardships, such as an early ‘90s recession spurring closure rumors and protests from hundreds of Mesa families to keep it open. Even the recent 2008 recession took its toll, but community volunteers stepped up to continue operations.
Today, with 25 computers, it remains a popular spot for residents to find information and use technology. The library celebrated its anniversary earlier this month with a party that looked backed at all its achievements since its doors opened in 1987.
Much has changed, particularly in terms of technology, such as the arrival of e-books – an online alternative to hard copies that library cardholders download directly to their computers, smartphones or tablets.
“We’ve always been about information,” said Heather Wolf, library director. “It’s the format that’s changed.”
E-books give visitors access to a variety of material and eliminate late fees by automatically retracting content from the renter’s device after two weeks of use.
“You can get a book at 10 at night without leaving your house,” said Sarah Prosory, Dobson Ranch Library branch coordinator.
Despite such technological advancements, Wolf said, print remains the most popular form of circulation.
“Even though digital circulation is increasing, so is print,” she said.
Oftentimes, the type of content dictates the preferred format.
“I don’t retain things as well when I’m reading it on a computer screen or hearing it,” Wolf said. “So for me, the print format helps me remember something better.”
As for leisurely reading, it’s all about preference, given increased accessibility online.
The arrival of online access freed up physical space in the 14,000-square-foot building, offering room to accommodate requests for new furniture, study rooms and partitions dividing silent reading areas from children’s play areas.
Both internal and external renovations were made over the years, but the building, nestled in the Dobson Ranch Park, still complements its surroundings.
“The design I think was pretty timeless,” said Dennis Kavanaugh, former vice mayor and a Dobson Ranch resident. “It’s been a very flexible space and I think that’s been helpful as library activities and trends have changed over the past 30 years.”
Planning began around 1982 and the building opened six years later. The city received special permission from the federal government to locate it in the park, as the land was donated.
Soon after, it became a hub for community and city activities.
“It’s right in the heart of Dobson Ranch and is set in well with the golf course, park and police and fire stations,” Kavanaugh said. “It really is a southwest city campus.”
The library had about 190,000 visitors since last June from East Valley cities, according to Prosory.
As for the future of the library, a primary goal for the library is to use it to increase digital literacy as technology advances.
“We try to make sure they are not only aware of these resources, but show them how to use them,” Wolf said of its users.
Additionally, early childhood literacy remains a primary objective.
“We have programs that help parents realize talking with their children and singing with their children are going to help them build those pre-literacy skills,” Wolf said. “So when they get to kindergarten they’re ready to start learning.”
Within the past two years, two of Mesa’s other library branches: the Red Mountain and Main Branch, added “THINKspots” – areas with 3-D printers, audio and video equipment, green screens and other technology for visitors to conduct innovative work as part of a business, community or school group.
“They’ve been so popular that I’m hopeful library staff can be creative and find space to do that in the southwest part of the city,” Kavanaugh said. “That’s on my wish list.”
“They have to identify suitable space and it would have to be a budget item to work in,” Kavanaugh said. “But southwest Mesa deserves a THINKspot.”