Community hot spot: Libraries in the Top of Utah — as well as across the country — becoming a gathering place

Nov 11 2012 - 8:51am

Images

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
The Bean-O-Colada Cafe at the Pleasant Valley Library in Washington Terrace offers a wide variety of foods and drinks for sale.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Patrons can buy their food items at the cafe and sit at a nearby table and read.
Standard-Examiner file photo
Angi Stewart (left) and her daughter Celia, 3, play together on a computer at the Pleasant Valley branch of the Weber County Library last year.
Standard-Examiner file photo
Bronda Kaschmitter, her son, Luke, and daughter, Elizabeth, check out an art presentation of murals used in UTA bus shelters at the library.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Jackie Binderim (left) gets a drink from the Bean-O-Colada Cafe in the branch in Washington Terrace. The cafe is run by independent entrepreneurs Felda and Art Olivias.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
The Bean-O-Colada Cafe at the Pleasant Valley Library in Washington Terrace offers a wide variety of foods and drinks for sale.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Patrons can buy their food items at the cafe and sit at a nearby table and read.
Standard-Examiner file photo
Angi Stewart (left) and her daughter Celia, 3, play together on a computer at the Pleasant Valley branch of the Weber County Library last year.
Standard-Examiner file photo
Bronda Kaschmitter, her son, Luke, and daughter, Elizabeth, check out an art presentation of murals used in UTA bus shelters at the library.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Jackie Binderim (left) gets a drink from the Bean-O-Colada Cafe in the branch in Washington Terrace. The cafe is run by independent entrepreneurs Felda and Art Olivias.

Here's a gathering place that seems to have it all.

You can catch a recent movie, settling back in a cushy chair in a state-of-the-art black box theater.

Maybe you'd enjoy learning how to knit or listening to a meet-the-candidates program. Or you could breeze in for a yoga class, a look at the latest paintings in the art gallery, or a freshly prepared panini sandwich.

Oh yes, and while you're here -- visiting what is actually a public library -- you might also check out a book.

Best-sellers, it seems, are no longer the sole offering of a community library like this Pleasant Valley branch of the Weber County Library in Washington Terrace. Nowadays, folks are as likely to come to a library for a didgeridoo concert or ghost-hunting program as they are to seek a quiet oasis for some heavy-duty page-turning.

"In general, libraries are looking to be more of a community center," says Cheryl Potter, assistant manager of the Ogden Valley Library in Huntsville, which also boasts an art gallery and regular exercise classes.

Lynnda Wangsgard says today's library is becoming the "third place" in a community, a locale outside of the home and workplace where folks of all ages and backgrounds can meet in a neutral space.

"It's kind of the equivalent of the old standard barbershop or country store or feed store, or wherever people gather just to enjoy one another's company," says the director of the Weber County Library system.

The new offerings in Top of Utah libraries -- from Zumba classes to magic shows -- are part of a nationwide trend as libraries adapt to changes in technology and consumer desires, says Eva Poole, president of the Public Library Association in Washington, D.C.

Free wireless connections, media centers where teens can write their own music, and classes in gardening, cooking or meditation all are popping up in libraries across the country, Poole says in a phone interview.

"Whatever the need is, I think libraries are trying to respond to that need," Poole adds, even if it's offering an array of novelty cake-baking pans for checkout, as she recently discovered one small Massachusetts library doing.

'Friendly' changes

A prime example of a "third place" is the Pleasant Valley facility, which opened in 2009. Citizens knew the library would include books, Wangsgard says, but when they were asked what else they would like to see in the building, they came up with ideas ranging from an auditorium for films and music recitals to a safe haven for teens and children after school.

"They wanted outdoor spaces, they wanted a place where they could drink a cup of coffee, play a game of chess, read a magazine," Wangsgard says.

Lila Larsen of South Ogden says she enjoys coming to the library every Thursday morning for a "gentle movement" class for seniors. She also stops in regularly to see the art exhibits or attend lectures.

"I don't see the books even as the main thing -- it's a public place," says Larsen -- although she does like to check out books as well.

The library also boasts the Bean-a-Colada cafe, run by independent entrepreneurs Felda and Art Olivias. Located just inside the main entrance, the eatery's menu includes sandwiches, salads, breakfast items and snacks.

Patron Jim Chandler, downing a sandwich at lunchtime on a recent day, says the cafe allows him to browse the books and not have to leave and go somewhere else if he gets hungry.

"It's a friendly change that allows you to really feel comfortable at the library," the South Ogden resident says. "And, the food is really good."

Yes, you can take the beverages or snacks into the library proper, as long as you're responsible with them, says assistant branch manager Victoria Young-Burns.

"People do seem to enjoy working at the computer with a hot cup of coffee and a muffin," she says.

Books and nooks

Technology has helped put the new face on libraries in recent years, area librarians say, going back to when computers started taking up residence among the printed pages in the early 1980s.

Nowadays, e-books -- complete with instructions on how they work -- are a popular service for users.

"Even grandmothers have a Kindle now, and they all come in to have us tell them how to use it, which we do," says Sue Hill, director of the Brigham City Library.

Another drawing card is free Internet access, says Poole, who explains, "We know that a large percentage of people don't have computers in their homes, or Internet access."

The new headquarters branch of the Davis County Library, which opened in October, has 12 public Internet stations for adults and children, three times the number offered at its old building, says Jerry Meyer, assistant director of the county system.

Instead of traditional study tables, the Farmington library features seating areas with tablet chairs suitable for iPads or laptops, he says.

Gone are the days -- thanks to Googling -- when students or citizens called to quiz librarians for information like, "What is the population of Alabama?" or "How do I cook a ham?"

Even so, today's library can give patrons access to many online databases that aren't available on the Internet. All you need is a library card, and you can find study help for the ACT, manuals for auto repairs, or guides for learning a foreign language.

And much of this research can be done at home, without even visiting the library building, says Potter, in Huntsville.

Knit one, purl two

What other offerings are found in Top of Utah libraries?

Knitters unite once a month at the Brigham City Library to get help on their projects or learn the craft. Meeting at the library instead of another locale is key to the group's success, says leader Eileen Stone.

"They're already comfortable coming into the library so it's not a tough step to join," the Brigham City resident says.

A Lego Club started this month at the Morgan Library, offering builders of all ages the chance to play with the colorful building blocks. A patron who had seen such a club at another library came up with the idea, and director Valerie Hancock says she thought, "Why not?"

Other recent events at the Morgan facility have included a star party, an improv drama night and a pottery demonstration. Family Fun Nights are held every quarter, with crafts and activities for parents and children.

As more people visit the library, Hancock says, the hope is they'll see what's available and how the library could be useful to them in the future.

At Weber County's Ogden Valley branch, a preschool program goes beyond storytime to help children learn letters, counting and singing, Potter says. On Wednesdays, an after-school program draws in kids of elementary school age.

In the future, an inflatable screen, for showing outdoor films, is on the wish list for the Pleasant Valley branch, says Jessica Whetman, adult programming coordinator for the Weber County system.

More cultural programs are also planned, she says, such as a Lion Dance to mark the Chinese New Year in February.

"We try to always have an educational value in everything we do, that promotes literacy," Whetman says.

Destination libraries

All of the concerts and film screenings haven't left books sitting dusty on library shelves. In Weber County, circulation increased from 1,226,786 items checked out in 2006 to more than 2 million items in 2012.

"Over the last five years, the circulation has skyrocketed," Wangsgard says. "Every month, more books are checked out than ... the month before and that's amazing to me."

Most public libraries are working to offer three things, says Poole, of the Public Library Association -- more technology, more community meeting and performance areas, and more comfortable and vibrant facilities, "so people can come in and want to stay."

A library like the main branch in Seattle, or even in Salt Lake City, is really a destination library, Poole adds, something that prompts residents to tell tourists, "Oh you've got to come and see our library."

As for change, Hill says that when she became director of the Brigham City Library 21 years ago, the big innovation was installing an online book catalog -- and then throwing out the traditional card catalog.

"There's always been changes in libraries," she says. "If you're a growing institution, there has to be change."

 

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