While it may be one of the smallest communities in the Treasure Valley, Garden City's residents are separated by one giant socio-economic gap. On one side, the relatively affluent residents live in well-maintained riverside homes. On the other side, families scratch out an existence below the poverty line. In a town without a resounding sense of community, there's one place trying to fill that niche while working to improve the lives of its youngest residents.
"We're the heart of Garden City and the place where everyone wants to come," said Lisa Zeiter, director of the Garden City Library (notaquietlibrary.org) .
Taking a break from the bustle of activity filling the small library located inside Garden City City Hall, Zeiter discussed her drive to make the library more than just a place to check out a book or hear a story.
"I always wanted a small library in a big place," she said, looking back on her 22-year career in libraries, including seven in Garden City. "You can actually make a difference."
Patrons seem to be recognizing the work at the library that borders the Greenbelt. According to Zeiter, 175,000 people--many from outside Garden City--visited the library between October 2011 and September 2012, and 70 percent of Garden City residents have a library card. Those factors have led to the library being the No. 1 for circulation, reference questions, computer usage and attendance, per capita, in the Treasure Valley. The library puts on 795 programs a year--roughly two per day.
But Zeiter isn't waiting for people to come to the library. Since 1994, it has supported the Bells for Books program, which takes the library onto the streets. What started with volunteers pulling a wagon with children's books during summer vacation--ringing a bell to get kids to come out and get books--has expanded into a full mobile library, complete with computers, iPads and healthy snacks.
During the school year, the bus is out on Thursday afternoons and Saturdays, while during the summer it's in the community 32 hours a week. The $40,000 it costs to run the program is funded entirely through donations to the library. Zeiter said the library also handed out about 6,000 books to children last year.
"I never miss an opportunity to give out a free book to a Garden City kid," she said. "It's not just books and not just story time--there's a lot more to it than that."
Anyone with Internet and a library card can use an online auto repair database, as well as the Learning Express database, which provides free sample tests and tutorials for things like the GED and SAT tests.
"It's access to the community," Zeiter said of the library's importance. "It empowers them to learn anything they want to learn or do or be."