Offer it and they will come. That’s a paraphrase of the slogan for the movie Field of Dreams, but it’s apt for expanded public library services, called Lobby Stop, available at the Belmont Community Center (BCC) in the Lake Anna area.
With free Wi-Fi and increased library visits once a week at the community center, patrons young and old have new access to tablets, books, DVDs, and the internet through Lobby Stop. And the numbers keep growing; about 10 new visitors started coming each week in the early months. Although the summer months have been slower, the number of patrons using the expanded services has almost doubled since April – up to about 35 users each week.
The Lobby Stop library services are a cooperative venture between the Belmont Ruritan Club and the Belmont Club of Women (who jointly own the BCC), the Central Rappahannock Regional Library (CRRL), and Spotsylvania County. The community center and clubs serve the Lake Anna area, with members coming from the three counties that border the lake: Louisa, Spotsylvania, and Orange.
The BCC building predates the lake, which was created in the 1970s for the North Anna nuclear power plant. Lobby Stop takes its name from its visits to various “lobbies”in Spotsylvania County including assisted living facilities community centers, and more. Since 2009, Lobby Stop has replaced the Bookmobile in many county locations.
Gary Jackson has headed the project for the Belmont Ruritans, and Belmont Club of Women (BCOW) President Pam Luttner is the liaison for her organization.
It’s a win-win for all involved. Jackson said that the Ruritans were approached in August 2016 by representatives of Spotsylvania County and the Livingston District School Board during a club dinner. They wanted to know if the center would be interested in being interconnected when the high-speed fiber optics cable was installed at the adjacent fire house. Free Wi-Fi? So what was the deal? That’s where the CRRL comes in CRRL had been providing a Bookmobile- type service at the BCC twice a month for many years. The expanded Lobby Stop version being proposed by the county, school board, and library would add much more to the rural area.
With free Wi-Fi, the library services would now be available Mondays (except for holidays) from 4-7 p.m. at the BCC. The increased hours would better suit students and members of the community who wish to use it in the afternoon and early evening. Books are still available for checkout, and the library now provides 15 Chromebook laptops during each visit, a wireless printer, and a special computer-charging cart. People can bring their own smart phones, tablets, or laptops to use the internet.
The BCC clubs decided to make the Wi-Fi available 24/7 rather than shut it off when the center is not in use so that travelers or others can connect to the internet at any hour of the day from the parking lot.
Martha Hutzel, CRRL director, said that initially both County Administrator Mark Taylor and Livingston District School Board Member Kirk Twig had approached the CRRL about offering Lobby Stop services to school libraries, but the idea quickly grew to adding community centers. The BCC was the most rural of the centers in the county, so it was the first to go online.
On the BCC’s side of things, Jackson – whose career was as an electrical engineer at a think tank that helped the “Air Force and other agencies put satellites into space” – is no stranger to technology.
He is used to working with groups to get projects accomplished, sometimes through “gracious pestering.” Jackson developed memos of understanding that documented the clubs’ relationship with the project and helped move things along. By March the internet was connected, and by April Lobby Stop was available.
The mission of the BCC clubs – both of which meet and hold events in the historic building – is that of service, and they raise money every year for scholarships that primarily assist students in the tri-county area. From supporting volunteer fire departments to area food pantries, the clubs also contribute funds and assistance to community needs. The Belmont Community Center was formerly the Belmont School (built in 1919), which housed seven grades. When the school closed, the BCC clubs purchased the building and its three acres. One building was torn down, and the remaining one with its pine floor was remodeled with a kitchen and restrooms. It opened as a community center in 1967.
The BCOW was formed as part of the statewide homemakers associations to Home agents were assigned to work with the chapters and present monthly programs that helped farm women learn new ways to cope with chores in the years before electricity and modern conveniences. Home demonstrations might have included sewing, decorating, or operating the innovative pressure cooker that would replace hot-water bath canners. Thus, education and community involvement have traditionally been part of the building’s history.
Just as the clubs have evolved through the years, so have the library’s community programs and services. “I’m afraid that our old Bookmobile died several years ago, and they are too costly to replace, service, run, and staff,” Hutzel explained. “So we came up with Lobby Stops as a great alternative. Jenny McGee goes into as many assisted living and nursing homes as she can and brings books, movies, and a laptop to residents.”
In addition to senior living facilities, the CRRL also takes the van’s services to patrons at community centers such as Belmont. “Patrons report that they enjoy not having to go out in the weather, and our circulation has been two to three times higher in most cases,” Hutzel continued. “Lobby Stop service will be provided from a smaller delivery vehicle, which will allow us to visit locations [that are harder to reach with the larger unit].”
Chris Glover, the library’s assistant director for information technology, and Jane Reeve, Spotsylvania’s director of information services, are among others who had the inspiration for and worked on the project. Thus far, it has been working well for all involved. “This [Lobby Stop] is a great example of the BCC clubs’ mission to provide community service,” Luttner explained.
The center is located at 7124 Belmont Road in Mineral.