An open house showcasing recent changes will be held Tuesday.
The book collection at the Newport Library is approaching 3,000 volumes. That's up from zero in January, when the city took over responsibility for operating the library from Washington County.
It also has stuffed chairs, love seats, a wide-screen TV equipped with cable, DVD player, newspapers, magazines, games and puzzles mostly donated by community residents.
The library also has its own website and free coffee, but perhaps the biggest and most noteworthy change that has occurred since new management took over is that the library at 405 7th Av. S. is now open seven days a week.
"The city and the community [are] backing me up in making this a showplace," said librarian Mike Laughton, the lone part-time paid staff member who has orchestrated the changes with the help of 12 volunteers. "I'm the paid mercenary. I could not do it without them."
Despite the generous support, the biggest challenge is letting people know that the library is still open. That's why Laughton is holding an open house from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Illustrating the need to get the word out are the library's attendance numbers. In February, it had only about 250 visitors.
"We are always fighting those newspaper articles in December that said the Newport Library is closing and Washington County is pulling out and retreating," Laughton said. "I have explained: Washington County pulled out. We took over. The library never really closed."
To draw attention to that fact, Laughton has put up themed displays and held programs for occasions such as Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Women's History month. On Fridays, he brings in a popcorn maker for a new Friday after-school movie series that has quickly gained a loyal following.
Slowly but surely, residents are making their way back to the library, which has been a fixture in Newport since 1899. An unemployed welder dropped by last week to use the computers to look for work. In 48 hours he had a job, Laughton said.
"That makes me feel good," the former Air Force and Marine Corps veteran said.
The Newport Library runs independently but still has a relationship with Washington County. Through a program called Newport Express, residents can order materials from the county and have them delivered. More than 210 items have been delivered to Newport since the program began in January, said Pat Conley, Washington County's library director.
Laughton said residents have rallied around the library to make it a success. One woman recently said she'd staff the library on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, which added 10 additional hours to use the library. It's now open 46 hours a week.
The library is still accepting donations of books, videos and CDs. Laughton said people can bring them Tuesday when they will have "a chance to get cake and punch and eyeball the library."
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039