Last week we explored what it takes for a community to be adaptive and resilient. This week, I want to look at how one centuries-old institution has had to adapt: the library. While libraries existed in ancient times–often only for the rulers or wealthy–their establishment for the public in America came in the 18th century. In 1731, the Library Company of Philadelphia was founded by Benjamin Franklin. This early library was subscription-based and was supported by its members. Then, in 1833, the first modern free public library was opened in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
For the last nearly 200 years, the library system has withstood many changes in technology and how consumers get their media. Libraries are still a great resource to our communities, in more ways than you might realize. I reached out to some of our local library branches to see how they are adapting.
One thing that has remained is that the community still recognizes the library as a place to find answers. Whether that is with research, how to make a resume, or where they can go for another service, people are still looking to the local library for help. But, as expected, each library has seen a decrease in physical media usage while digital media increased. They also noted an increase in those who are utilizing services like faxing, printing, and computer use. To account for this, libraries are updating their computers and printers and positioning themselves as a hub for technology and internet access, even creating welcoming spaces for patrons to gather together.
Libraries are providing access to many online databases for e-books, audiobooks, music, and movie rentals, all at no cost. Plus, many of the libraries offer interlibrary loans which means that if your local branch does not have what you are looking for, they may be able to get it from another library in the system.
But, you might be most surprised to know that our libraries offer so much more than books and movies. For instance, the Foxburg Free Library and some others in the area offer free WiFi hotspot rentals, STEM kits for in-library use, and board games. The Knox Public Library has a Seed Library and a Library of Things with items ranging from binoculars to a garden tiller to musical instruments and many things in between. The Oil Region Library Association even has family passes to Drake Well Museum.
These libraries also offer in-person programming in conjunction with organizations such as the AC Valley First Program, Seneca Rocks Audobon Society, and CareerLink and programs like Storytime, book clubs, coding programs, and more.
So, how can you take advantage of this resource? And how can you help keep it around for years to come? Dan Flaherty, Executive Director of the Oil Region Library Association, says, “The simplest way people can help us out is to sign up for a library card, explore our resources, and tell your friends and family about what we offer!” Brenda Beikert from the Knox Public Library would add, “Let us know if there are programs or services you’d like to see at the library.” This helps the libraries know what would be beneficial and where to focus. You can also help by volunteering your time. Many libraries run with limited staff, so volunteers are needed to keep things going.
Funding is a concern when it comes to public libraries. Much of the funds come from government programs–which often are reduced over time, grants–a lengthy process, and donations. Monetary donations and fundraiser participation can help to offset some of the costs that the libraries are seeing with inflation, building maintenance, and program updates.
The library is a great example of how adaptation equals survival. If you have any thoughts or ideas about what we, as community members, can do to adapt and thrive, I’d love to hear from you! Stop by Divani Chocolatier in Foxburg on Fridays from 1-3. And starting soon we’ll be spending some more time at River Roots Community Farm at AC Valley School District, and you can check our Facebook page (facebook.com/RiverRootsRedevelopment) for updates on that as well.
Rachel Brosnahan is the Community Engagement Coordinator for River Roots Redevelopment. She can be reached by email at email@example.com