I remember when I was a child going into the library, it was like entering into another world, filled with books and information on almost any subject. The other thing I remember is that I had to circumvent my natural childhood tendencies and be quiet upon entering those hallowed library doors. Absolute silence was to be respected on the premises. And as fun as hide and seek in the stacks could be, catching you at it would place you in library jail, where books go to rot, and rats would eat away at your infested toes. Well maybe not the books . . . or the rats . . . or the image of being behind bars. But they would severely scold you, or you would be removed from the premises expeditiously. That was the library of my youth.
Many year later, when I was told that there was a library job opening at a local library, and I was thinking transitioning careers, I was curious as to what I would find. The internet revolution was already underway and hints and rumors of the libraries quick demise were being spread throughout the land faster than fake news, a George Bush malapropism, or a Donald Trump tweet. We were being told by everyone that we were living in a post library age. Kids doing research papers were told that they could no longer just use books. (Gasp!!!) They had to find at least a couple of their resources off of the web. They were to get them from reputable sources. (Of Course!) But we were rapidly being moved away from the need for a book.
And after a few false starts with online book publishing, IPads, Kindles, Nooks, and e-readers galore rapidly replaced the need to have a hard copy of anything. We were at the dawning of a new digital revolution. Nothing was going to stand in its path. And Libraries, an outdated source of information, were going to be among this revolution’s first victims.
As I was beginning my work at the library, the whispers among the staff were about whether the library would be able to adapt to this new digital environment and how. We were the gatekeepers, after all, of the world’s most reliable information. (And for those who think Wikipedia is that source of reputable information, all I have to say is, “Shame! And Unpardonable Shame!!!!”) Maybe we were a little bit stuck on ourselves, but we had taken years collecting, organizing and managing information, deciphering what was quality versus junk. (Or Fake News in hard copy for those of you who were born after the year 2000.) How could we be left out of this new world of information?
The Library needed to rethink itself. And so we have. Not only have we rethought what we are doing, but we have been able to grow in ways that we would never have thought of before. The Libraries are not just mausoleums for books, where they go to die. (Although I did work for a place as a page once where maybe that was their understated goal.) Libraries have become vibrant, community centers, welcoming you with opportunities that go far beyond what you may have thought.
What’s bad, and yes we librarians know this to be true, is that people frequently don’t know the services that we provide to the community. So in light of our understanding about our marketing weaknesses, here is a list of ten different goods or services that the library provides (going from 10th to 1st so be patient for the last one) of which most people are unaware:
10) DVD’s/Movies to checkout – Now I know that some of you know about this, especially if you were an Oprah watcher right around the time of the recession in 2008. We were a hub for job seekers of all stripes. But one of the things that Oprah focused on was the large movie collections that we have been able to develop. These movie collections have only gotten larger and what’s great about them is that they are free. “FREE???” You ask. How could anything that awesome be free? I mean, I pay 10 bucks a month for my Netflix subscription and I get one great movie at a time. There’s a catch right? Well, kind of . . . You are subject to whatever movies that we have in house, unless you want to place a hold for 25 cents. Twenty-five cents per movie. So for 10 dollars I could place holds on 40 movies??? I can’t even watch 40 movies per month. But wait . . . there’s more!!! You can check out up to 10 movies at a time and renew them for up to 5 times which means you can have 10 movies up to 6 weeks at a time. Sure you can have that one Netflix movie forever, but would you want to at 10 dollars a month? You might as well purchase the movie at that price.
9) Author Events – I would usually rank this higher. In fact, it could very easily be rated higher, but this is the thing that the library tries to market about itself the most. It does go along with the whole theme of the place. A large repository for books? It would only seem natural that author’s would go to visit them. But that wasn’t always the case. In recent years, many of these authors would go to large chain stores to try to peddle their wares. Libraries weren’t exactly a hotbed of sales. The fit between libraries and authors did not seem natural. But as virtual places like Amazon have taken over the publishing industry by storm as a distributor of materials, authors have needed different venues to reach out to their public. Libraries have become a more natural fit to these author’s once again. There have been some pretty amazing author visits to libraries by luminaries such as Ray Bradbury. But the Orange County Public Library system goes one further in that it showcases 30 or more authors at a time with its Literary Orange event every April. I know that many other systems are doing similar things, so check your local library for information about author events in your area.
8) Gardening, cooking, or home improvement workshops – Trying to learn how to install systems to collect greywater for usage on your lawn or plants? Wanting to learn which fauna work best with the kind of weather and soil you have locally? Want to get tips on the care of Orchids that you always seem to kill off? Would you be surprised to hear that you might want to take a look at your local library? Sure, you have all of the books that may discuss all of these issues in detail, and you can read about them to your heart’s content. But being a more hands on person, I prefer being able to hear from these people who can help you out first hand. Watching a person make a rain barrel is very different then seeing them online and trying to install one yourself. (Sure I learned to pick a lock watching a YouTube video, but . . . whatever.) As far as gardening, I’ve seen tons of gardeners talk about this or that mulch, fertilizer, etc. But none of them on TV were as good as seeing someone at a Nursery care for a plant. And if cooking is your passion, watching a chef prepare one of their meals right in front of you and allow you to try it out is a lot better than trying to glean information from the Food Network on TV. (Nothing wrong with the Food Network. Alton Brown is my hero as a nerdy science chef! Just Saying!) The library is a hotbed of useful instruction! Tsssss! (That’s the sizzle.)
7) Database Offerings – Woah! I know that the library has those stodgy databases of years past. Why would I want to go and get on one of those sites? They are the programs from bygone eras where the graphics barely move and the pixels are more visible than a Super Mario Brothers Video Game. How can you possibly convince me that you have anything worth viewing on there? Let’s begin with Ancestry.com. You know, the website that helps you put together your family history. Oh and then there is Mango Languages, a website that teaches you through various different methodologies to teach you hundreds of different languages, including how to speak like a pirate. What could be any better than saying arrrrrgh??? Or how about the database Hoopla, with thousands of song titles, movie titles, books, comic books, and magazines, all at the press of a button? Still not enough? What about all of those jobs that you have where continuing education units are a perennial requirement? Through Universal Class, and Lynda these are all just one click away. Why would you go to all these databases at the library? I think the real question is, how could you not?
6) Artist Displays – Whether doing whole exhibits or just a few paintings on the walls, take a look at the art always on display at your local library. The artist themselves may come out and do a talk, or you will see it displayed along the walls of your local branch. You will find some hidden gems in there from time to time, and garner an appreciation for the arts and for local artists that communities under appreciate. Find out who the artist is and make sure to thank them for their display. Artists are rarely praised gems in every community and it’s important to support people who bring beauty and meaning to our lives. Check out the local art gallery as well. They are also quite an underappreciated gem.
5) Technology Classes – I know that for many, you have faced a job market that is unkind and not very forgiving. Some of you may have gotten into majors, with very few exceptions, which leave you only qualified to work behind the cash register at a McDonalds. (Cha-ching!) Well you were able to get through college in the first place, learning at least a general education curriculum, and having to navigate the world of various learning platforms. You are qualified to do so much more than McDonalds. You just need to improve your skills and qualifications for that next job. Where are you going to go? Some job seminar? You feel like one of thousands with very little hope of finding anything to match your skill set. Instead, you should go to your local library. Wait, what??? Why would you go there you ask? Well how about all of the various different technological offerings they provide. Job seminars, coding classes, Microsoft office classes, app classes, 3D printing instruction, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on and on. Each library may have their own specialty, or person at the branch whose specialty may be in a particular area of technology. But my experience with libraries and librarians is that if they see a need in the community, they fill it. Libraries have to justify their existence just like any other organization. How do they do that? With numbers. Enough people want any particular class and you will have a library with a technology class in some area that you are interested in. Go to expand your mind.
4) Film Screenings – I know some of you may have remembered your local library playing Pippi Longstockings from the Betamax or VHS that the place had on a little TV screen inside the building. The screenings at your local library go well beyond that today. Whether hard to find foreign faire that allows you to see films that you would never have seen otherwise, to mainstream movies being showed to family audiences as a local movie night at the library, or film festivals where artists, directors and film historians come out to discuss works and engage with the community about topics that are current and relevant, the library provides it all. What could be more amazing than that? Oh yeah, they are no longer making you watch it on a small screen or even a big screen TV. They are using laser projectors to put these movies out with quality sound systems making you feel like you are watching these movies at a theater with other theater goers. And if that weren’t enough, refreshments and a discussion often accompany these screenings. What makes the library amazing? All those little things that they can add to your everyday life for the cost of . . . wait for it . . . Zero Dollars and Zero Cents. Does it make much sense not to go? I don’t think so.
3) Summer Reading Magic – I kept debating where I would put this one. I struggled with this position mainly because it encompasses so many different things and it’s frequently something that a Library is known for, encouraging children to read. But if you think that the Summer Reading Program is just about having kids learn how to read, then you have not been to your local library in quite some time. Aside from the reading, and the prizes, and keeping up your child’s education for the summer, they have a world of magic that needs to be explored. What do I mean by a world of magic? Well on some level I literally mean a world of magic. Libraries often hire performers during the summer, many of which are magicians, to put on shows for the kids. But wait! There’s more. There are dancers, talent show contests, cosplay days, skateboarding demonstrations, caricature artists, painting classes, Lego building, balloon wearing, sky diving, bungee jumping, hang gliding . . . whew! The list goes on and on and on . . . Ok maybe I went slightly overboard with the hang gliding and bungee jumping but the sky diving is a thing at the library . . . right? Right?!? If you haven’t gone to your local library by the end of May to pick a list of activities that they are doing for the summer then you are truly missing out on some spectacular, free, events for yourself and your kids. And there is a little known secret at many of the branches. Adults can win summer reading program prizes too. (Shhh!!! Don’t let anyone else find out about it before you win that IPad.)
2) Dance/Exercise Classes – Wait What?!?! A Library is actually going to teach me how to dance??? You have to be kidding me. Why in the world would the library teach anyone to dance anything? How could they possibly do that? And where would they possibly do that? Well . . . I have to say, have you bothered to check out your libraries community room lately? When you clear out the tables and chairs Libraries are the perfect place for some dance instruction. I have seen hip hop, tap, salsa, swing, waltz, and a plethora of various dance styles and music that people have been able to pick up at the library. And you won’t be able to beat the price anywhere because it’s free. Well that’s a relative misnomer. Usually, unless you have someone who is really gracious, there will be some funding through the library itself or from some grant to cover the cost of the instruction. But it costs you nothing to be able to go in there and pick up a couple of lessons. Or if dance is not your thing I have seen classes on Tai Chi, Yoga, Zumba and many more. And what’s great about these classes is that they are not for professionals. It’s not like the local swing night at some place where they have an hour before the dance for instruction and you are the only person who has never taken a swing class in your life. It’s a little intimidating to go in there. Here you are in good company with a bunch of amateurs learning the various different dance moves. The library is the Planet Fitness equivalent of the judgement free zone. If you haven’t gone to check it out by now, what are you waiting for???
And finally . . . the number one Library service that you probably have never heard of is . . . Books! Wait, no . . . not books. What was it again? Oh yeah . . .1) How to Events – “Ok . . . ok,” you say. “I appreciated everything else on your list, but how can you possibly excite me about an event where you learn a bunch of how to things at a library? That just doesn’t sound very impressive.” Well . . . I guess it depends on what you mean by impressive. I suppose this could fit within any of the previous categories, but “How to” events combine the best of what’s in a library. Think of some of these class offerings: how to pair wine with your meals; how to play the harmonica; how to knit; how to tend your garden; how to create art from your old and musty books; life hacks 101; how to do henna tattoo art; how to do designer nails; how to play the electric guitar; how to make Cuban coffee; how to talk like a pirate; how to build your own space ship out of spare parts and fly it to the moon; etc. Well maybe you don’t want to fly that space ship to the moon. That drying machine engine might have a few problems getting you there and the panels off the shingles of your house may burn up a little too easily while reentering earth’s atmosphere . . . but I think you get the point. There are so many different things you can learn how to do. There are housing interests, safety concerns, hobbies, art, and a million other things that you could learn in life. The library gives you the opportunity to light the fire of your imagination and consider the world that is out there. The library is only limited by their own imaginations. And as any librarian will tell you, their imaginations can run pretty wild.
After reading this list, why would you go to the library? Well, if you wouldn’t go to the library after reading all this, you would be a pretty boring person indeed. Or you might be agoraphobic. And then you need to get a book on the subject and help . . . serious . . . serious help. But aside from that there seems to be no limit to all the things that you can do and learn at a library. If you haven’t been recently, you might want to drop on by and see what’s going on there. The books are not all musty and dust isn’t coming from every corner. I swear.
If you have other amazing events going on at your local library, I would love to hear about them. Or if you know another place in your community that is a world of unexpected treasures, I would love to know about them as well. The Library is my world of unexpected treasures. And we seem to create more of these treasures every day. This is me, signing off again.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life