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Library not just for books anymore

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Yasemin Revira, 10, uses an educational computer station in the children's room at the Peterson library on a recent visit to the facility with her family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Yasemin Revira, 10, uses an educational computer station in the children's room at the Peterson library on a recent visit to the facility with her family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Peterson library director Kathy Kucharski shows what is inside of the literacy kits available for children at the library. Each kit consists of a backpack, a Reading Rainbow book or DVD and related activity sheets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Peterson library director Kathy Kucharski shows what is inside of the literacy kits available for children at the library. Each kit consists of a backpack, a Reading Rainbow book or DVD and related activity sheets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Since the Air Force became a separate service in 1947, libraries have fulfilled a significant function in the Air Force mission. The relationship goes back even further by about 30 years to 1918 when the first Air Corps was created. Libraries were established at McCook Field (now Wright-Patterson AFB), San Antonio Air Depot and the Air Services Library in Washington, D.C., according to the Air Force Historical Studies Division.

Today, libraries continue to play an important role in the Air Force. These facilities are hubs of activity providing educational material, boosting morale and offering a wide variety of services for service members and their families.

"The library enhances the quality of life for our base community, serves Airmen in the nearby dormitories, and children and families in the community," said Col. John Shaw, 21st Space Wing commander. Base libraries convey the message that literacy and life-long learning are important and valued by the Wing and the Air Force, he added.

Kathy Kucharski, Peterson Library director, noted the library has three legs as an Air Force general library: To support the Air Force mission, provide education and to enhance the quality of life of base personnel. Kucharski and her staff bolster the legs in a number of ways providing services and resources related to each one.

The most common use of the library, and evidence of one way libraries have adapted to technological progress, is accessing the Internet either with library equipment or wirelessly. Many come in to use the library's .mil computers since it has the only systems able to access that network outside of work areas.

Another frequent use is for accessing College Level Examination Program and Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support materials.

"We have the largest CLEP and DANTES collection in the area," Kucharski said. "We try to keep the latest materials."

Speaking of education, one thing most people don't know about the base library is the availability of college text books. Kucharski said the education center teamed up with local colleges to provide the books.

"They provide the books for 100-level courses," she said. "They bought them and gave them to us. People check them out instead of buying them." This service is available for active duty personnel and spouses.

The library reaches out to the young and old alike. There is a children's room complete with two computers running educational games, children's reading materials and literacy kits. The kits consist of a backpack filled with a Reading Rainbow book or DVD and related activity sheets. Coloring sheets for the kids are also there for the taking.

"It's good for them to get out of transitional quarters. And we are very proud we have a home school section with materials and resources for parents. We have a really good young adult section a lot of teens have told us," Kucharski said. "We have kids' and teens' periodicals."

There are some adult programs, such as the Department of Defense Summer Reading Program, which is for all ages. In 2014, 753 readers participated, about 500 of them children and young adults, and read a combined total of 6,230 hours. Adult programs are harder to establish according to Kucharski, but she and her staff are open to suggestions.

"I think we provide services you can't get downtown. We understand them, the military and retired military. Mission support stuff cannot be done downtown," she said. "We are like a small public library that does special work for the military; that's how we have to look at it. We strike a balance from kids to 90-year-old retirees."

The base library is keeping up with the trend toward more electronic media in collections. There are 6,400 video products like movies, new and classic TV shows and non-fiction DVDs on base. Add to that about 3,000 books on CD and Play-Aways (a digital device loaded with specific content) and there are numerous alternatives to select without leaving base. The number of these items will only increase, Kucharski said.

The library participates in inter-library loans so materials from other libraries can be placed on hold and picked up here. With new books there is typically a long wait time to check them out, but she said those waits are usually shorter at the base library.

"We have people who come here to get the latest books more quickly," Kucharski said.

And there is a plethora of other material available at the library. Things like daily newspapers, Chief of Staff's reading list materials, Great Courses CDs and DVDs, a section dedicated to learning languages and Internet access with CAC readers for non-Air Force personnel. The base facility is also the registration point for Transparent Language learning software which is free for library patrons. Once registration is competed at the library the program can be accessed from any device anywhere.

A section specifically for assisting during transitions is available as well, providing books and DVDs about things like workplace information, résumé assistance and entrepreneurial resources. Even a meeting room with Internet access, WiFi, a whiteboard and a screen for video presentations is available for those needing space to hold gatherings.

"Anyone can use it," Kucharski pointed out. "We've had scrap booking moms to Gold Star Wives to security clearance interviews."

Roughly 900 people used the library during the four-day week between Christmas and New Years Day. Library use stayed even at about 109,000 users in 2014. Kucharski said she had the difficult challenge of weeding out materials in 2014 to the tune of about 8,000 pieces of material. Another 10,000 items will be removed during 2015 she said. Though a significant reduction in the collection is taking place, more electronic media that can be accessed from different places is replacing most of those items.

"This is not a 'shhh!' library," she said, "We want people to come in and feel comfortable and safe in a clean environment where they can get what they want."

For more information on the library, including hours of operation, visit: http://www.21fss.com/about/library/.

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