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Newport looks ahead on its library and community center

Mike Laughton is the part-time librarian at the Newport Library and Community Center. The city is beginning to formalize some of the start-up library's policies. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente

When Mike Laughton was hired to launch the Newport Library and Community Center, what he lacked in experience as a librarian he made up for in enthusiasm.

Laughton aggressively sought donations to help stack the shelves left mostly empty after Washington County closed its Newport library branch in late 2011. Thousands of books and other materials were dropped off by groups and people in the community. Laughton recruited volunteers to help staff the library. He organized holiday-themed events, such as a Halloween story contest and Easter egg hunt.

Retired from the Air Force and Marines, Laughton took the job and ran with it.

"I feel a strong sense of ownership about this," Laughton said of how the library and community center has grown over the past year.

The effort hasn't gone unnoticed at City Hall.

"He was a go-getter; that's what we want," Newport Mayor Tim Geraghty said. "(Now) we have to catch up to him."

City officials say the library launch was a success.

The center saw more than 4,500 customers in 2012, according to stats that Laughton has tracked. More than half of the visitors were children, and one-third of users were adults.

Kids show up to read books, do homework, watch videos, play board games and listen to music. Adults peruse the book stacks and use the computer terminals to check email and search for jobs online.

In addition, groups have used the library for meetings, Scouts have toured it and it's been frequented by home-school families and homework helpers.

Geraghty and others praised Laughton's work as they begin developing formal policies for the library at 405 Seventh Ave.

"It's a new, strange animal and we're just going to have to figure it out," council member Tom Ingemann said during a workshop last week.

Laughton had been donating books he didn't want or have space for to the Hastings veterans' home, local senior-living facilities and a Twin Cities children's hospital. Moving forward, all donated items will have to be recorded with the city.

To pay for special events throughout the year, Laughton was accepting donations and selling granola bars. City leaders want to tighten some of the library's more informal practices so they are in line with city policies. That means no more casual snack sales.

Geraghty said the city will provide funds to operate library events during the year.

Public Works Superintendent Bruce Hanson, who is overseeing library operations, soon will meet with the city's volunteer library board to write formal library policies that will be submitted to the City Council.

Library hours were the source of debate last fall and earlier this year. Geraghty overturned former City Administrator Brian Anderson's direction that the library remain closed on New Year's because it was a city-recognized holiday. The library was open, angering Ingemann.

Council members developed a policy allowing the center to be open on holidays only if it is staffed by unpaid volunteers, not Laughton, a city employee.

The library is open from 3-8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; 3-6 p.m. Friday and 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Geraghty said he doesn't anticipate adding paid staff to extend library hours. He said people seem satisfied by the existing hours.

The facility relies on volunteers. Laughton enlisted the help of about 17 people who help to keep the library open beyond the 20 hours he works. Among the volunteers are a few students, including East Ridge High School junior Lindsey Tarango.

The library offers a nice environment for everyone, children, adults and families, Tarango said. The switch from county-run library to a city-operated library and community center has been a success, she said.

"I think they not only found something to put in here, but this improved it," she said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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