I haven’t talked about libraries in a while, and that’s a shame, because I really ought to be yelling every day about how important and amazing libraries are. Quick: what image comes to your mind when you think of “library”? Does it involve card catalogs and tall shelves and ladders?
If so, you really need to get your butt over to your local branch, because things have changed. A lot of activities have moved in, displacing the shelf space for books in many cases. Whether that’s a good thing or not we can argue until the bookworms nibble our toes away. It’s here, and it’s happening. Libraries have always been a place to take the kids for reading hour; now you, the adult, can take free or low cost classes in a huge range of subjects. It’s like going to college without the grades and stern parental lectures about expectations.
Some libraries, of course, offer more than others. Some are still catching up to the digital age, some have more funding than others to make that leap. If yours is still back in the mostly-books-and-dust stage, I encourage you to get involved and help them raise vital funding and community support, now. If you don’t want your library to close their doors completely, get involved. I won’t go into how libraries survive in this post, but there are great articles about it here and here.
I’m here to tell you what’s available in the ones that have the two critical advantages of funding and support. I’ll use my local library as examples, and I encourage you to post comments and links to your own. Show the library pride! (Seriously, I’m a geek. I want to know what you love about YOUR library.)
I recently moved into the Richmond, Virginia area, and of course my first stop was to get a library card. I wound up at the Varina branch, and was utterly stunned by the (literally award-winning: look here and here) architecture, which includes a really lovely outdoor walking trail (connected to the Virginia Capital Trail), dropoff and pickup window, carpooling space, and a great bike rack.
(I will post pictures soon, I promise. In the meanwhile, there really are quite a few good photos on the library web site.)
Once inside, I was further astounded by the multiple free meeting spaces, study rooms, and classrooms available, the many computers and e-readers, and the really, really gorgeous interior layout.
Then there’s the digital media lab, which includes a green screen booth, a 3D Printer (which, yes, they offer classes in using), and a flatbed scanner that can work with photos, slides, and negatives. You can digitize VHS tapes here. You can create a podcast here, with a full audio recording and mixing station. You can edit photos and videos with professional software. The library offers classes that teach you how to use all of these tools.
The classes don’t just cover “Photoshop 101”. Right now, on the calendar, there’s “Upcycled Musical Instruments”, “Plan for Entrepreneurship”, “Summer Coding Club”, and “Intergalactic Fashion Workshop”.
Upcoming events include a Video Game Tournament, Library Mini Golf, Family Game Night, and Anime Club, among many others. There are writing groups and reading groups and kid groups and adult groups. They show movies. They host concerts. I could go on, but I’ll stop there. Go look for yourself.
For those in need of legal beagle stuff, the Tuckahoe branch hosts the Municipal Government and Law Library, and offers access to the Westlaw Legal Database. For those in need of rolling access, there’s a mobile library service, (perhaps better known as a bookmobile). Library membership offers access to dozens of online databases and professional journals, as well as scanned in magazines and newspapers.
Wait–I haven’t mentioned the online services! How about free ebooks (OverDrive), music and movies (Hoopla), and digital magazines (RBdigital), anytime? How about learning a foreign language for free (Rosetta Stone)? Yep, that’s in there too.
Libraries are moving away from just being books on shelves. As I said at the beginning, there are good and bad things about that shift. I like books on shelves, and I am mildly disappointed by the relatively thin print book selection in modern libraries. But for libraries to survive, they have to adapt, offering the greatest possible value to the communities around them. Varina definitely nailed that goal, and I’m deeply grateful to Henrico County for making it possible.
So back to you, the gorgeous reader of words! What’s your local library like? Tell me about it! If you haven’t visited it lately, on or offline, take some time right now to do just that and see what they have to offer these days. You might just be surprised — and, with luck, enchanted.