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.
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.
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.
McPherson Public Library
Social networking Web sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have been growing more and more everyday. They have been expanding so much that not only are teens and 20-somethings using these sites, but they are also affecting the Baby Boomer generation. Since these sites are growing so much in popularity, many libraries are seeing them as a tool to reach out to their patrons.
Michael Stephens, assistant professor of library and information science at Dominican University in River Forest, said “The best libraries will offer multiple venues for discussion. You’ll have multiple channels to find your way to no longer [just] a Web site, but a Web presence.” He also teaches a class called, “Library 2.0 and Social Networking Technologies,” and said that the number one group of people moving to social networks are ages 30 and up.
It is important for libraries to be proactive and stay current with the trends to stay effective, rather than become outdated. These sites allow people to connect with each other, as well as allow libraries to connect with their patrons. Amy Alessio, teen coordinator for the Schaumburg Township District Library said, “The library needs to keep its perception and its service current or we’re going to lose folks.” She uses social networks, such as Twitter, to let people know about the various programs and services that they offer. She found many adults and authors are following her library’s Twitter page and said, “I put something up on Twitter for a program that only has a few spaces left and I almost always get a call from a parent.”
Not only do social networking sites inform patrons about their local library, but they also can bring libraries together to share ideas. They can see what other libraries are doing and if that is something they could or want to start. It is also a tool for passing along information about budget cuts and what is going on in the industry. The North Suburban Library System said that they use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with its member libraries and professionals within the industry.
For libraries to continue to effectively reach out to their patrons, they need to stay current with the times by utilizing social networking sites and creating a Web presence. Peggy Carlson, assistant director of the Geneva Public Library, said, “We think it’s the way of the future, and we’re going to be integrating it more and more into our service.”