Libraries across the country are wrestling with the impact of our rapidly changing digital age. With a world of information now at the fingertips of any one with an Internet connection, the need for a physical community book depository has shifted. Commack Public Library (CPL) Director Laurie Rosenthal believes that the role of libraries will evolve and they will remain important during this digital transformation.
More Than Just “Stacks”
“We’re part of that transition,” she explains, adding that people will continue to need help in navigating a constantly shifting information landscape. “Kids still need to be taught how to make sure that websites are legitimate, and the information they find is true.
“Over the years, the reference collections in libraries all over the country have shrunk dramatically, but then there are the eBooks and down-loads,” she points out.
In fact, downloadable books are now one of the library’s most popular features.
“When we first started offering downloadable books, their circulation numbers were at 100 per month,” Laurie says. “I think now they’re over 1,000 per month, and every month we circulate more and more.”
The Need to Meet
But as popular as the new eBooks are, the new role of libraries goes far beyond shifting from a physical to a digital book lending service.
“We’re more of a community center than a book depository,” Laurie explains.
The library hosts a wide variety of programs for patrons of all ages, from play groups for preschoolers to mature driver safety programs conducted by an AARP volunteer.
The library even boasts a 3D printer in its young adult section, courtesy of a grant from a local politician. 3D printers allow users to essentially “print” a physical item (like a cup or figurine) based on specifications created by the user. In concept, the devices are not far removed from the “replicators” featured in Star Trek stories.
The way the library offers something for almost everyone is no doubt part of the reason why it garners so much support from its patrons.
“We serve the babies, we serve the parents, we serve seniors still interested in learning how to download books at 80 or 90,” Laurie smiles. “Our budgets usually pass overwhelmingly.”
Even better service is on the horizon, thanks to the library’s upcoming expansion. When the renovations are finished in October of 2017, patrons will be able to take advantage of the library’s enlarged community spaces and (courtesy of a generous benefactor) an inviting outdoor reading area.
The library offers a number of programs of particular interest to seniors, including chair yoga sessions, bridge and mah-jongg events, and movies for adults. One older patron has even begun contributing book review videos to the library’s Facebook page.
Though the library will close during renovations, it will still serve patrons. The library’s movie program, for example, will continue, thanks to the generosity of neighboring Fountaingate Gardens, now under development.
“They have a small meeting room right down the road,” Laurie says of her nearby neighbors. “They’ve extended them-selves to allow us to use it twice a month for our movies for adults. Once they’re established, we’re looking forward to having a great partnership with them.”
Laurie notes that it’s hard to know what the future holds for CPL and libraries in general. “We don’t know what the new trends are going to be a year from now, but we have to be flexible enough to adapt.”
And whatever those changes may be, libraries will likely remain home to the age-old tome of printed words on paper for some time to come.
“I don’t read downloaded books,” Laurie concedes. “I still like having that book in my hand while I read the pages.”
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from the Fountaingate Herald. To see the full issue, please click here.