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The James V. Brown Library celebrates a milestone with a new addition

The Welch Wing, built in 2009, continues to benefit the literacy and education of children today.
Chase Bottorf
The Welch Wing, built in 2009, continues to benefit the literacy and education of children today.

The James V. Brown Library is marking the 15th Anniversary of the Welch Wing for children’s literacy.

15 years ago, the library was one of the first in the region to prioritize children’s learning and education, according to Amy Resh who is the acting executive director of the James V. Brown Library, the system administrator for the Lycoming County Library System and district administrator of the North Central Library District. The Welch Wing was one of the first and largest wings in the Commonwealth when it was built.

“We learned very early on that we needed to focus on the social and emotional needs of kids from birth through age 18… They decided to buy the building that was here and they tore it down and built the Welch Wing,” she said.

Along with the celebration on Wednesday, the library unveiled a new public nursing room for mothers and their babies. The space is located along the wall of the children’s area of the Welch Wing and includes a calm and quiet place for feeding and pumping.

The wing also includes a museum space, one of the most used spaces in the library. The theme of the museum changes periodically.

“What we love about that is there is no set itinerary, no expectations, as the different things in the room are cycled through.... It is a great opportunity for kids to connect with one another, especially for children who aren’t in preschool, and gives them the opportunity to connect with each other and to learn all of those skills they need early,” she said.

Each level of the library is separated according to age groups. The children’s area of the Welch Wing is dedicated to kids newborn to age 11. The second floor is a space for tweens and teens to hang out, be creative and be social. The rest is for all ages.

The library itself was built in 1907, a few years after the death of James V. Brown. Brown, who was a lumber baron and philanthropist, wanted the city of Williamsport to have a free, public library. So before his death, he gave the city $150,000 for the construction of a library.

Brown envisioned a board to oversee and govern the library. That continues to this day with all of the trustees living in Williamsport and surrounding communities.

Another group with the library is known as the 1907 Society. Members commit to including the library in their will. Those who choose so, are leaving a legacy in the Williamsport community just as James V. Brown did, according to Resh.

More than books

The library offers more than just books by offering humanitarian resources. It partners with local organizations such as STEP and Christ Church, providing resources and opportunities for people experiencing homelessness or financial struggles. The library also works with the American Rescue Workers and other local nonprofits.

“We make sure that people who are experiencing homelessness have resources and opportunities to get the services that they need and give the knowledge about the services they need... There are opportunities for assistance out there we can point you towards,” Resh said. “We do a nice job with making sure that we are a link in the community, everyone already feels welcome here.”

Patrons of the James V. Brown Library are able to utilize services such as Libby and Hoopla for free. Libby is a phone application used to access all digital materials the library has to offer. Hoopla is similar and allows access to movies, music, magazines and other digital content. Overall, the library has over 200,000 physical materials and also has thousands of e-books, audio books, magazines, etc., according to Resh.

Along with providing necessary resources, the library has one of the largest outreach vehicle services in the Commonwealth. They have three different book mobiles — a story mobile for birth through age five, a book bus for birth through age 18 and the book mobile for all ages.

“Since our region is geographically large and diverse, the library tries to make sure to get out into the community in different places around the county, so that everyone has access to some type of library material,” Resh said.

The book mobiles not only offer a place to read in rural areas, they are outfitted with wi-fi. People in these areas are able to access free internet not just at the vehicle, but in the surrounding area, according to Resh.

Along with mobile vehicles for outreach support, there are two link libraries in Plunketts Creek Township and Pine Creek Township. They are also outfitted with free wi-fi, printing and faxing.

“One of the things I love about libraries is that everyone is welcome and we can’t be everything for everyone but we have something for everyone. People love libraries and people realize they’re a public good and they don’t want to lose them... We have this enduring nature about us that people realize is a huge important aspect of not only literacy but also community,” Resh expressed.

Summer learning at the library

Each summer, the James V. Brown Library holds a Summer Learning event for over 1,000 kids in the community. According to Resh, the program helps children and teens “combat the summer slide” when they're not in school. The theme for this year’s program is Adventure Begins at Your Library. Children and teens will be able to go out into the community to experience things that they might not be able to due to economic barriers.

According to Nicole Rader, the programming and youth services director, participants will receive Adventure Booklets which are similar to a passport. The booklet will be a way for youngsters to receive prizes through their summer adventures.

"My idea for the booklet is to be a guide through the summer programs here at the library. With adventures you choose within the community, personal reading log, etc." she said.

The library will be partnering with Lycoming College, Hiawatha, YMCA and Rider Park for the Summer Learning event. The program runs June 15 through Aug. 10.

“We really want to make sure people know there are so many wonderful things in our county. You don’t have to leave to have a fantastic summer learning experience to get your kids excited about reading and learning,” Resh said.

Volunteers and funding

Volunteers are a big part of the library's success. With the help of the Friends of the James V. Brown Library, a volunteer and funding group, book sales are held twice a year. They also run the Everyday Bookstore located on the third floor of the library’s Welch Wing. It is open almost everyday.

Resh said much of the funding for the county's library system comes from the Lycoming County Commissioners’ Support Library Service. The Kiwanis Club of Williamsport also contributed to renovations of the Welch Wing, including a quiet room for children.

Anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Lycoming County is eligible for a free library card which can be used at any of the county's six library locations.

The James V. Brown Library is located at 9 E 4th St in Williamsport. It is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For all upcoming events at the James V. Brown Library, visit their website at https://jvbrown.edu/.

Chase Bottorf is a graduate of Lock Haven University and holds a bachelor's degree in English with a concentration in writing. Having previously been a reporter for the Lock Haven news publication, The Express, he is aware of the unique issues in the Lycoming County region, and has ties to the local communities.

The Lycoming County reporter position is funded by the Williamsport Lycoming Competitive Grant Program at the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania.

You can email Chase at chasebottorf@wvia.org