By Paula Damon
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges, writer
Building a new library has been on Deb Matthys’ bucket list for who knows how long. As the director of a local community library, for years Deb, her staff and patrons have had to move back and forth among several disjointed rooms in a makeshift library at city hall.
“Finally, we will have real bookshelves,” Deb sighed when announcing the groundbreaking for the city’s first-ever free-standing library, slated for completion next spring.
Although, while her present library digs are not the most desirable, Deb hasn’t let it stop her from being the answer place for the general public.
“We are much more than a place to check out books, movies and e-readers,” she explained. “We are a total resource center. Whatever you are looking for,” she said, “we will locate it for you.”
Come to find out, Deb’s philosophy is spot on with what’s trending in twenty-first-century libraries across the nation and around the world. Libraries today are vibrant centers for learning, entertainment, discovery, exploration and even gaming.
According to a National Public Radio report, titled “At Libraries Across America, It’s Game On,” Aug. 11, “about 15 percent of libraries in the U.S. currently lend games to cardholders to take home.
Offering gaming has increased circulation of books by 15 to 20 percent at the Houston Public Library, which has several Nintendo Wiis, Xboxes, Nintendo DSs, iPads, PlayStations and big-screen TVs. With gaming as a primary draw of services, young and old alike are spending more time at the library, noted Sandy Farmer, manager of the Houston Library’s youth services.
“Families come — parents have things to do on the computers, because a lot of the families don’t have computer access at home, so the kids have some things to do and while they’re here,” Farmer explained. “They find out, ‘There’s Superman. I can read Superman.’“
This reinvention of library services doesn’t stop there. Get a load of what’s for check out at the Surrey City Centre Library, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. People! As a part of the human library program, users request experts on such topics as health, disability, religion and immigrations – you name it. And then, volunteers chat with patrons at the library café. However, this concept isn’t unique to Surrey, as many libraries across Europe have established human libraries.
In addition to what you’d expect to see – volumes of books, racks of magazine and journals, computers and study areas, some libraries today have kids’ play rooms, meditation rooms, coffee houses – and meals? That’s right – hot and cold meals are being offered at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Ohio. In June alone, Cincinnati, Ohio, library branches served more than 5,000 lunches for children to try and fill the local hunger gap.
“This wonderful collaboration between the public library, Cincinnati Public Schools and Window Arts Enrichment allowed us to help fill the crucial nutritional needs of children while also offering opportunities for literacy programs enabling kids to stay more focused and attentive,” said Maria Sferra, a regional manager for the library system. “Consequently, they also become better readers.”
There’s more. After Hurricane Sandy, the Greenwich Library opened its doors to nearly 5,000 residents who had lost power and heat in their homes. “Under normal circumstances, our libraries are places for education and entertainment,” said director Carol A. Mahoney. “In times of need, we are safe havens, offering everything from outlets to charge electronic devices and Internet access, to a cafe serving simple meals and snacks.”
Warm and welcoming places to relax, meet friends and get advice, sources of brain food and real food – long live libraries!