Libraries Nationwide Experiencing Growth

Speculation of the demise of public libraries has been a talker over the last handful of years. With everything going digital (music, movies, books) it was at least clear that if libraries were going to make it through this transitional period, they would have to be willing to change with the times. The widespread opinion by many was that libraries wouldn’t survive long term but would start to see a decline in overall patronage. If that is the case, we’re not seeing evidence of this yet.

Take Wethersfield Library in Connecticut for example. According to their library director, overall patronage last year increased. More than 193,000 people visited the library in 2010- an average of 550 visitors each day. That’s a 4.5% increase from the previous year.  Quite an astonishing number considering what libraries are apparently up against. In addition to their physical visits to the library, 180,500 people visited the library’s website.

In the past year, Wethersfield Library also had 54,800 questions to reference staff (18% increase from the previous year) and borrowed 363,900 items from the library to patrons. 17,00 people attended programs offered by the library, ranging from job-hunting support groups to children’s reading events to movie screenings.

The increased use is similar to increased patronage in other libraries nationwide. The American Library Association has noted that since the recession began, libraries across the country have seen increased use by people who have fallen on hard times or who are seeking jobs and visit libraries to use the free computer to look for work and apply online.

Seemingly, the recession has had a big hand in these nationwide increases for libraries. For example, people have been dropping magazine subscriptions to save money while going to their local library to borrow magazines. While the economy might be a temporary explanation for these increases, it will be very interesting to see where the state of the public library is in another 5-10 years, assuming we climb out of the recession.

Library Opens Learning Commons

The Randall Library at the University of North Carolina Wilmington is taking an innovative approach to being a valuable resource for students in the digital age. They recently introduced their “Learning commons“, a designated area in the library that encourages technology-based research and takes the “shhh” out of the traditional library setting.

When walking through the main entrance, it’s easy to identify the learning commons. The area is freshly painted with bright colors and modern cubicles that feature desktop or laptop stations. The room also has a help desk that is staffed 65 hours per week by reference librarians and staff who work in technical assistance.

Students are encouraged to come in groups, plug in their computers, iPods, or other tech devices, and learn about technology. While the entire 2nd floor of the Randall library is reserved for peace and quiet, study groups in the learning commons can talk freely without fear of a staff member shushing them. Students also like the space that the room provides so they can still have their privacy.

Before the makeover, the space was outdated but the new learning commons now boast more than 300 power outlets and 91 computers catering to the digital age that some libraries are having a tough time adjusting to. Students can also check out 50 PC laptops and 14 Mac laptops.

It is no coincidence that students are giving good feedback about the learning commons. The project began as a series of surveys asking students what they wanted and needed out of a library studying area. Listening has been the true key to success. The concept is ongoing too. Collaborating with the students will not stop as the feedback from the students will help evolve the learning commons in the future. The area is designed to change with technology and student’s needs.

Librarian from a Small Town Shows Big Heart

Karla Shafer is the director of Hooper Public Library in Hooper Nebraska: Population 827. She’s also the only employee of the library that’s open 23 hours per week. Showing big heart and determination, Karla has been recognized for her efforts to help immigrants learn English. National grants she has won have financed books and literacy classes at the library. Recently, another grant of $5,000 has been awarded to her so she can continue with the literacy program that she started two years ago.

Her story is inspiring. Being the wife of a retired Methodist minister, Shafer found inspiration by the story of her husband’s grandfather who was a German immigrant who didn’t know English and didn’t get any help until an uncle stepped in to help translate his school lessons. The grandfather then became a Methodist minister which was passed down to his son and then Karla’s husband Ted.

Hooper only has a handful of immigrant families, but Shafer recognized their need for help. The library had no bilingual books and she could empathize with how uncomfortable she suspected those families were feeling- like the German boy- when they walked into the Hooper Public Library.

Shafer, who speaks a little Spanish herself, said the goal of her literacy program was to make sure immigrants did not feel unwelcome at the Hooper Public Library and to help them realize their dream of becoming Americans.

The Hooper Public Library is housed in a former grocery store and also features computers to help with computer literacy, five parakeets, and a variety of Wii video games to make the kids feel at home.

Shafer plans to use some of the recent grant money to expand her literacy program to nearby Nickerson, Nebraska. Some Hispanic families there were unable to get transportation to her first English classes, so she is taking the class to them.

Next month, Shafer is getting an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington DC where she will share her story of how even a “one-girl show” in a small town can make a huge impact to a national gathering of librarians.

Library Offers Summer Reading Program For All Ages

McPherson Public Library in Kansas is offering summer reading programs for all ages. The programs provide a great opportunity for children and teens to keep their reading skills sharp over summer vacation while indulging in some fun activities. Programs are offered for three different age groups.

The kid’s program called “Make a Splash–READ!” lets them explore the world of water through stories, songs, games, and other activities. They can also earn prizes for completing a summer reading board. All summer long there will be special music performers, magicians, snacks, lunch, puppet shows, etc. What a great opportunity to put children into a fun environment where reading and learning is encouraged.

Teens can sign up for a program called “Make Waves @ Your Library” where they can come to the library all summer to read and take part in special events. They will also be able to earn prizes for reading.

“Dive into Reading” is the adult summer reading program. Adult readers can explore new genres, give book reviews, sign up for book suggestions, join the library’s online book discussion group and receive prizes for each level of participation.

The McPherson Public Library is sponsoring a fun festival for the “Summer Reading Kick-Off on Thursday, June 3rd from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the library.  All ages are invited to help us kick off the Summer Reading Program “Make a Splash . . . READ!”. The library will have free games, art activities, balloon animals, and temporary tatoos.  Children will also have a chance to sign up for the Summer Reading Program during this event.

More info:
McPherson Public Library

Libraries: A Call for Innovation

The question is not if libraries will exist throughout the digital age, it’s how will they re-invent themselves.

Libraries cannot survive as community-funded hubs for thousands of books that are never checked out by its patrons. Moreover, expensive reference materials that libraries invest tons of dollars on are now free online and conveniently available for anyone to peruse. Many libraries claim that their number one thing that they deliver to its customers are free DVD rentals…not a good long-term strategy to build upon.

Now that people are going online for the same information provided by their local libraries, it’s time to shake things up. There are a few examples of libraries that are creatively positioning themselves into the digital age as an attempt to salvage their sense of community.

Lets look at the City of Baltimore. The Health Department has recently launched the Virtual Supermarket Project. They chose two neighborhoods in East Baltimore and Washington Village that they dubbed as “Food deserts”, or areas without access to healthy food options. Teaming up the Enoch Pratt Free Library (with branches in both neighborhoods) and Santoni’s Super Market, they now have given local residents easy access to healthier food options at a fair price.

Residents simply go into the library and order their groceries online using the libraries computers. They will receive a printout of their order and pay at the time of ordering. Then they come back the next day to pick up their order with the Baltimore City Health Department subsidizing the delivery charge.

This system benefits the consumer because a wider selection of high quality fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy is made available in the neighborhood than is offered by local corner stores. Pooling purchases for delivery at one convenient site allows consumers to avoid the delivery fee and the requirement that a certain amount of money be spent for the order to be delivered. Also, consumers do not have to navigate public transportation to get to the grocery store, nor will they have to manage hectic schedules and childcare to dedicate time to grocery shopping. From the mayor himself:

“This program will make these neighborhoods stronger and healthier, allowing residents the same access to full-service, competitively priced grocery stores that much of the rest of the city enjoys,” -Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Other examples of libraries who are shaking things up:

The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, in North Carolina, has a multimedia space where kids shoot videos and record music. It also runs a blog dedicated to gaming and hosts video game tournaments regualarily.

The Aarhus Public Library in Aarhus, Denmark, takes things a step further.

The library features an “info column,” where people share digital news stories; an “info galleria” where patrons explore digital maps layered with factoids; a digital floor that lets people immerse themselves in information; and RFID-tagged book phones that kids point at specific books to hear a story.

Virtual Supermarket Project

World’s Smallest Library

What is being hailed as the world’s smallest library is somewhere between quaint and genius.  This “library” is none other than a salvaged phone box.  Stocking around 100 books it works as a book exchange.  Users simply bring books they have read and then take books that they haven’t.  This little libarary also hosts DVD’s and CD’s and appeals to all ages with a variety of childrens books as well.

In addition to the creativity and sense of community that this library offers there is a eco-friendly factor.  The salvaging of the phone box itself along with the book exchange it facilitates is a great way to be green. It is the epitome of reuse.

For more information please visit:

Baltimore Sun


Public Libraries, Not Just for Books!

Recently the New York Public Library announced that they have opened another facility for wireless internet access in the Edna Barnes Salomon Room.

The Edna Barnes Salomon room is by far the most elegant.  You can bring your own wireless enabled laptop and some branches even have laptops available to borrow.

Public Libraries Offer Wireless Internet

All Chicago Public Library Branches have free wireless internet access available for use.  In California, both the Los Angeles Public Library and the San Francisco library offer free wi-fi.

Here in the heartland, all branches of the Minneapolis & Hennepin Public Libraries and Saint Paul Public Library offers free wireless internet access at all locations.

So no matter where you go take your laptop to the public library to surf the internet, check your e-mail, and stay in touch for free!

Library Audiobooks 2.0

Library audiobooks playaway player and casesThe next wave in audiobook technology that libraries are offering are on a small player called a “playaway”. This format developed by leading audiobook publisher, Recorded Books Llc, has an entire book pre-loaded on an mp3 player rather than several CDs.

The tiny players fit in an adult’s palm and are heard through headphones or speakers attached to the player.  They are especially popular with commuters as they are very portable and there is no changing discs.

Library audiobooks The Worst Case Scenario PlayawayReaders like the quality and ease of use, as well as the ability to move back and forth between chapters and within chapters, The device also allows readers to alter the speed of the narrator’s voice and has an automatic bookmark feature that “remembers” where the listener left off.

The players are easier to store since there’s only one unit. Using foam to cradle the players in their storage cases, help to keep them free from damage.

There are over 180 titles in many genres from Stephen Hawkings “A Brief History of Time” to Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic.

Check out your neighborhood library to see this new way to experience reading.