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In the age of the Internet, metro libraries are booming. Here’s why

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ROELAND PARK, Kan. -- It's a sound you'll hear at most libraries around the metro: the electronic beep of a book being checked out.

For those who work in the library system, they know it's the sound of growth. Yet, for some people at the Cedar Roe branch of the Johnson County Library, it's a sound they haven't made or heard for almost two months.

"This building opened in 1969," Branch Manager Anna Gordon said. "It had not been touched or given an update since then."

The 50-year-old library closed for a $50,000 renovations. That included new carpeting, new window panes, ADA compliant door handles and a new roof on the building, which can only be seen from overhead.

Read between the lines: it's a sign of things to come.

"These investments to the building are definitely going to take us another 50 years," Gordon said with a smile.

Libraries around Kansas City are growing and expanding.

"The Kansas City  Public Library system, the Mid-Continent Public Library system, and the Olathe Public Library have all opens new branches or refurbished new branches in the past couple of years,  and have plans for similar investment over the next decade. This tells us that our residents in our communities across the state line and several counties around the metro believe in the power of libraries and the importance of libraries," Christopher Leitch said.

Leitch is the Community Relations Coordinator for the Johnson County Library system. The system now consists of 14 library branches; two were added in the last two years.

As of 2016, the American Library Association had 9,057 public libraries in the US. It said Kansas has 321 public libraries in the state; Missouri had 147. New York had the most with 756, followed by Illinois at 621. Those numbers are almost four years old, so they don't include the two new ones from Johnson County, or any others in the US.

The American Library Association said people visited libraries 1.35 billion times in 2016. That's more visits to the stacks than to the movies (1.24 billion admissions in 2016).

"Libraries are the only places in modern society were you can go and not spend money but still benefit," Leitch said.

And that's why so many are growing, or getting renovated.

"It's not a book depository anymore," Gordon said as she watched more patrons walk into her library. "They use us as a community space. They get homework help. We got a lot of folks who need to get on the computers to look for jobs or work on their resumes."

A sign near the entrance of the Cedar Roe branch noted an American Girl Book Club and a LinkedIn Job Seeking workshop scheduled for the next couple of weeks.

Leitch talked about the popular English Language Learning course at Oak Park on Saturday mornings, and the What the Tech courses to help people learn to use computers and navigate the internet. He said the library system has several books in other languages; the top three languages read in Johnson County are English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese.

So take a look. If it's not in a book, it'll probably still be in the library.

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