Connecting A Community

Connecting A Community

FreeState Electric Cooperative is pleased to provide financial support to community programs and organizations through Operation Round-Up®. Funding for this grant program is donated by FreeState members, who volunteer to round their monthly electric bill. That spare change is collected, and grants are awarded quarterly. For more information on the program visit

DeShazo assists youth at the library. 

In many small communities across northeast Kansas, the public library serves as a connection point for area residents. 

Silver Lake is no different. 

The small Shawnee County town just north of Topeka sees Highway 24 curve through, passing a few businesses and a line of storefronts on its way in or out of town. Tucked in that line of storefronts on the northwest side of town is the public library. Until recently it blended in, looking like the old grocery store it once was. If you didn’t happen to see the books through the windows, you might not have even realized it was a library. 

That all changed with the recent renovation project. 

“The building seems so much more welcoming,” said Cathy Newland, the library’s director for the past eight years. “It looks like a library.” 

The library, like many businesses and organizations in small communities, started as an idea after a need was discovered.

Women at the United Methodist Church opened the library April 6, 1974, in a small rented space with donated books, shelving, furniture, and volunteer time from organizations and individuals. The library was open three hours per day and continued collecting books until there was no space for expansion. 

In March 1981, the library moved to the leased building at 203 Railroad Street to accommodate its rapid growth. In 1995, the library expanded again into the building next door, and soon was occupying 201 and 203 Railroad St. In 2010, the building officially became the property of the Silver Lake Library Board and has continued to grow to keep up with the needs of the community. 

Since taking over ownership of the building, a new roof, new paint, new carpet and expanded technology have all been added. In 2012, the library adopted a renovation plan to provide the community with a library that was updated, accessible, community-oriented, and offered an improvement to the downtown area along Highway 24.

Recent renovations have been made possible through a variety of fundraisers and special events all supported by the Silver Lake community and beyond. Examples include quilt raffles, holiday basket auctions, saving Best Choice labels from Wehner’s Thriftway and a pancake feed sponsored by Bob Schwarz Financial. Add in grants and gifts, and the efforts raised $125,000. Operation Round-Up® contributed $6,120 for new shelving and new audio and digital inventory in the children’s section. 

The recent renovations are just a part of the three-phase project. Phase one was completed in 2013, and phase two, completed in September of this year, included new windows, a ramp, improvements to the main entrance and restoration of the north façade. 

Phase three of the renovation will address the east façade and sidewalks that will improve safety, as well as the overall appearance of the building. Also included is an expansion to include a meeting room and ADA-compliant restrooms. However, continued financial support will be needed before the final step can begin. 

“Fundraising is the biggest challenge, but the second challenge is even knowing what we can do with what we have, and how we put the best interest of our patrons first,” Newland said. 

“The vision of the library is to be a destination for the community,” Newland said. “We want to build community, as well as provide valuable resources.” 

Those valuable resources are first-class materials and programs paired with a knowledgeable staff of eight. 

Tracey DeShazo, youth services librarian, leads a portion of those programs. 

Patrons use the library for a variety of items. 

“We have story time for small children, a creative hour for first- and second-graders, a Pinterest Club for third- and fourth-graders, and a program called Newberry Readers,” DeShazo said. “We also have a great relationship with the Silver Lake Elementary library, and we share ideas, resources and materials.” 

“We utilize the interlibrary loan program to assist the elementary library in securing books to use for research projects or other projects integrated into lessons,” DeShazo added. “There are also times when intermediate readers may want a book that isn’t available at the school library, and we can assist in getting those books to them.” 

The relationship is all about opportunity and making youth lifetime library users. 

“I think the relationship with the public library is important because kids need to be exposed to as many reading opportunities as they can get,” said Carrie Podlena, USD 372 media specialist. “The more Tracey [DeShazo] and I work together, the more children are going to be impacted.”

Podlena and DeShazo’s focus isn’t just elementary students. The pair teamed up for the Junior High Book Swap program. 

“Students read one book during the quarter that they can share with their peers,” said Podlena, who added that students meet quarterly over lunch in the library to talk about the books they’ve read. 

“At the halfway point, we met and had a fun night at the public library so we could check up on their progress and see how they were doing with their books,” Podlena said. “We hold some of the events that go with it here at the high school library and some at the public library.”

Podlena says the library is vital to a community like Silver Lake, especially to parents like her. 

“My girls have grown up with library activities, and I really think that helped develop their love of reading,” Podlena said. 

The public library is accessible year-round for everyone in the Silver Lake community. It serves as a place to access information or entertainment that may not otherwise be available. It provides a safe place for the community to enjoy programs and other activities that enrich both children and adults. 

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