GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the world has progressed, so have libraries, becoming community centers and offering so much more than books, from telescopes to hotspots.
“People are wondering whether libraries will become obsolete,” White Pine Library director Patty Rockafellow said. “I don’t see a library becoming obsolete ever in the future because we are like a chameleon. We adapt, we change and we add things that people want all the time.”
Whether your local library serves a few hundred people or serves thousands, it offers plenty of programming and resources for you.
“Libraries are so much more than just books these days,” said Sarah Fox, a branch librarian at the Kentwood Branch of Kent District Library. “Libraries are one of the few spaces where you can come in and not have to pay for anything for any of our services or any of our materials. So we just want people to use libraries as their community hubs.”
Below, find eight tips from six West Michigan librarians and library employees on how to get the most out of your local library:
1. ‘IT DOESN’T STOP AT THE WALLS OF THE LIBRARY’
“The pandemic really was a game changer for digital materials,” said Rob Carpenter, the manager of the Herrick North Branch in Holland. “We’ve always had a very healthy digital collection, but the pandemic kind of supercharged both our collection size and interest in our collection.”
Most libraries offer titles you don’t have to come in for, such as e-books, audiobooks and databases.
Some West Michigan patrons have started to read e-books more than physical books.
“A lot of times our library users don’t set foot in the library, they just use all of our e-books and our resources,” Fox said. “Access is really important and getting your library card is the first step to accessing all those great things.”
Michigan residents can also access the Michigan eLibrary, or MeL, for things like legal documents, ancestry information or other research projects.
“It really doesn’t stop at the walls of the library,” said Megan Biggins, public services coordinator at Grand Rapids Public Library.
2. TELESCOPES, BORESCOPES, BUTTON MAKERS: CHECK OUT ‘CRAZY KOOKY THINGS’
Some libraries, including the Herrick District Library in Holland and the Hastings Public Library, have started offering items to check out that are much bigger than books in a ‘Library of Things.’
“(Herrick District Library) started doing a Library of Things a few years ago and there are dozens and dozens of just crazy, kooky things that you never would think you could get at your local library,” Carpenter said. “My family … checked out a telescope and we sat out on our patio one night and we looked up at the stars.”
He said they also offer things like a boche ball set, music equipment, items for home renovation and a steel drum. He said his family has checked out a button maker for his daughter’s birthday party.
“That was a fun birthday party,” he said.
At the Hastings Public Library, youth services librarian Paige Brandli said their Library of Things collection has items like metal detectors, sewing machines and a bird watching kit. They also have a borescope, a camera that helps people see in inside a wall.
“Someone had a little baby bird fall between their house and the deck, and they use the borescope to find it,” she said.
White Pine Library in Stanton lets families check out things like telescopes and bicycles.
“We have a fleet of bicycles because we’re right by the Fred Meyer Heartland Trail,” Rockafellow said. “If your family came in and you didn’t have enough bicycles for your whole family to go on a bike ride, you could come check some out for free from us.”
Many West Michigan libraries also offer hot spots that you can check out.
“Those are super great, especially since we’re in a more rural area and there’s people that just don’t have the best internet,” Brandli said.
You can also check-out experiences: Both KDL and GRPL offer ‘circulating memberships’ that allow you to check out tickets to places like museums.
3. PRACTICE LITERACY AND SOCIAL SKILLS AT STORY TIMES
Your young child can learn important skills at the regular story times most libraries offer.
Biggins said story times “are foundational to any efforts toward early literacy.”
The Hastings Public Library offers the Itsy Bitsy Bookclub, in partnership with the YMCA and Barry County Great Start.
“We meet at the park and we do a little story time and some songs. And then we … have open play and an opportunity for parents to talk to the parent coaches from Great Start,” Brandli said. “Especially for our younger friends who aren’t as used to socializing… I’ve got one that age too, so I totally understand a lot of the concerns that we have with getting ready for school and the opportunities that they missed due to COVID.”
Hastings also offers a preschool story time on Friday at the Library.
Mallory Metzger, the marketing and program coordinator for Hackley Public Library, said story times are a way for kids to “enjoy stories, movement, activities, songs” while also getting used to socializing with other kids. She said it also offers parents an opportunity to learn how to encourage their kid’s literacy skills.
Rockafellow said their story time are great for kids who aren’t in school yet or are home schooled.
“We have story time all year long,” she said. “Kids up through second grade, whether they’re homeschooled or whether they’re just young and are not in school yet, we have programs for them where they come and learn and get activities and all kinds of things.”
4. GET TECH HELP, FROM EMAILS TO 3D PRINTING
Whether you’re not sure how to set up an email account or you want to digitize some old VHS tapes, libraries offer a variety of technology help.
KDL offers one-on-one appointments for technology help.
“For adults a lot of times I think they might need help with technology,” Fox said. “A lot of branches will offer either drop-in sessions or the opportunity to set up a one-on-one appointment. So let’s say you need help setting up your first email account. You could set up an appointment to come in and work with a librarian to do that.”
Herrick District Library, which offers resources to help patrons get comfortable with computers as well, and also has a conversation station, Carpenter said. He said you can head to the library to do things like digitizing film or convert VHS tapes to DVD.
You can use their vinyl cutters or try your hand at 3D printing.
“I’m not going to go out and buy myself a 3D printer, but I can go to the library and use a 3D printer for free and learn all about (it),” Carpenter explained.
5. ‘ALWAYS BE LEARNING’
Herrick District Library also offers STEAM-related toys. Carpenter said patrons can “secretly learn while you’re playing.”
“Even though you never intended to learn, we’re going to help you learn regardless,” he said.
“I think also we should always be learning and trying to improve ourselves and improve our lives. The library can really help you with that,” he said. “We should also have fun and have a good time and libraries can help with that as well.”
Libraries often offer programming to help you pick up a new skill or learn more about a topic you’re interested in.
Hackley Library offers things like music performances, historic lectures, gardening programs, writing groups and skill classes, Metzger said.
“We try to have a variety of programs that can interest everyone at some point or another,” Metzger said.
Carpenter said not only are libraries places where you can learn hard skills, they’re also places where you can learn things like empathy.
“One of the great things about a library is that it does bring people together. So you find all types of people in the library and we get to interact with each other,” he said. “When you interact with each other, you learn things about each other and about yourself, and it’s a great way to kind of develop empathy and appreciation for everyone.”
6. STOP IN FOR LOCAL RESEARCH
At the Hastings Public Library, patrons can explore the Michigan Room, dedicated to local history.
Brandli said there are things like wedding records, death certificates, old yearbooks and local newspapers, mostly from the Barry County area.
Many libraries offer local documents to help with your research.
GRPL also offers the Small Business Resource Center, which helps perspective small business owners find relevant information to start a local business.
7. FIND COMMUNITY: ‘A SPACE FOR PEOPLE’
The librarians said their buildings are meant to be community spaces, where people can come in and use the resources, and enjoy the AC and a safe space.
“It’s meant to be a space for people,” Metzger explained. “To really just feel comfortable and to let loose, to know that … we’re not trying to gain anything from them, except for them coming in and enjoying the building, enjoying the resources and the services because this truly is a community, a community building.”
KDL partnered with Feeding American this summer, offering lunches at most branches every day for kids in Kent County.
Librarians say the best way to support them is to check out their books.
“They truly are community buildings, they’re community organizations. We literally would not be here without the support of the community,” Metzger said.
8. ‘START WITH US’
If you don’t know where to start, talk to your librarian.
“A really good rule of thumb is to start with us,” Biggins said. “We might not have the resource you’re looking for, but we will help you find what direction you should be looking.”
“Just come on in and talk with our staff,” Fox said. “If you have questions about books to read next, that’s what librarians love to do, they love to recommend titles. But we also love to be community builders.”
“We’d love to see you,” she said.
The librarians say they want you to get the most out of it.
“Talk to your librarians. Tell us what you like, tell us what you’re interested in. Tell us what you’d like to find out more,” Carpenter said. “Everyone who works at the library works at the library because they like helping people. We want to help people get the most out of the library.”
For more information on what your local library offers, go to its website.