QUINCY -- The Illinois-based American Library Association says the Quincy Public Library has an economic value of more than $13 million to the city of Quincy.
This is according to an online calculator that assigns a monetary value to the various services or materials, such as young adult books, audio books, literacy programs, public computer usage and meeting room space that a library provides to its patrons.
Quincy Public Library board member Chris Pratt said that while he is pleased to hear a statistic that highlights the value of the library, he believes the number should be higher.
"(Thirteen million dollars) is an absurd dollar amount," Pratt said. "It is hard to stack the value of the library against police, fire and roads. Our challenge is to convince people to see that a library worth $13 million is an investment into the community."
Quincy High School alumna Alexis Bergman said she knows firsthand how the library's worth is more than just dollars and cents, or book circulation numbers.
"I have seen the very real ways that the public library can improve the outlook of a teenager's life," Bergman said. Despite living 112 miles away from her home in Quincy, Bergman has become one of the local library's staunchest advocates.
Bergman is now a student at the University of Missouri in Columbia. She recently penned an open letter to the Quincy City Council where she shared her perspective on the Quincy Public Library, the role it plays in the community, and how its services influenced her life and the lives of her peers.
In her letter, Bergman calls the library "one of the best organizations in Quincy" for teenagers and young adults.
As a teenager in Quincy, Bergman participated in the library's Teen Advisory Board for six years, including four years as president of the group.
"I have seen the extraordinary capability (the Teen Advisory Board) has to impact the lives of Quincy's youth," Bergman said. "Through our programs, we have brought students from underprivileged families, students who struggled to make friends and students searching for a creative outlet together. The junior high and high school years of life are so formative and difficult, but the library brings together many students every week, and gives them purpose. ... I also saw students who didn't yet have a passion in their life discover talents they never knew were there."
Teen Advisory Board sponsor and librarian Deborah Riddell said hearing Bergman's comments confirm that a library is much more than just a location to check-in and check-out books.
"There is a misguided notion that a library is simply a place that services only in books," Riddell said. "A library is a community place, and my goal has always been to get them into the building so that they can see with their own eyes all that the library has to offer."
In the midst of the Chinese cuisine cooking lessons, the book discussions, the homework tutoring, the board games and the other activities of the TAB group, the teens find camaraderie.
"A lot of teens who come here are looking for community," Riddell said. Last year, more than 2,350 teens attended programs at the Quincy Public Library. "There is a misconception that because of technology we are more connected than ever, but technology seems to actually separate teens. They don't get that personal one on one where they have to interact and be human. It humanizes us all, I think, regardless of our age to sit down at a table with someone different than us and talk."
Human interaction is something that Riddell's fellow librarian, Val Stark, knows something about, too.
Stark works at the Quincy Public Library as an outreach librarian. She has been at the library since 1985, and for the past three years, she has worked as the coordinator for the library's homebound delivery service.
The library has been offering a biweekly, individualized delivery service for more than 30 years. More than 200 Quincyans, who range in age from 30 to 102, participate in the program, which delivers books to people living in private homes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other retirement facilities.
Participants can check out any of the library's materials, including 140,865 books, 8,621 electronic materials, 10,358 audio materials or 5,326 videos on DVD.
Among those participating in the program are Denise Hesse, 61.
A native Quincyan, Hesse said an illness prevents her from leaving her home on 24th Street and making the weekly trip to the library.
"For me, when you have pain or discomfort, reading allows you to focus on other things," Hesse said. "You can go to other countries. You be can be a queen. You can be a pauper. You can be anything."
Hesse said losing her ability to go to the library created a sense of isolation that was intensified following the death of her husband.
Books, especially the historical novels that Hesse says she loves, provided a relief to the retired self-storage facility's manager.
"Books became my constant companion," Hesse said. "I am so grateful for this program."
Stark said that Hesse's reaction is similar to other reactions of the homebound delivery participants.
"Sometimes we are the only people who visit these people," Stark said. "They may not have any family in Quincy, or their friends may not be able to see them. So we are that connection to the outside world, to the community."
Hesse said each time she thinks about the library being forced to scale back, she becomes anxious. She said she wonders if budget cuts to the library could mean the loss of the homebound delivery program and the return of her isolation.
Last year, the Quincy City Council imposed a 4 percent cut to the library, which resulted in a loss of $72,000 from the library's operating budget. In response, the library was forced to slash its Sunday hours and reduce its daily hours of operation Monday through Friday by two hours.
Quincy Public Library Executive Director Kathleen Helsabeck said that if more cuts are made in the future, the library could be forced to either cut staff or programs, possibly jeopardizing the future of the Teen Advisory Board or the homebound delivery program.
"Nothing is sacred," Helsabeck said. "We will have to take a look at everything."