It's National Library Week! What do you know about your local library?

Public libraries aren’t just places to borrow books; everyone today knows that.

Since the coming of the internet, libraries have changed and adapted to meet the needs of their customers. People now are looking for information of a type far beyond that in hardcover books and magazines, once the staples of every library.

Today’s library customer wants much more: instantaneous access to information, a space for community meetings, areas dedicated to children and teens, electronic books, places to enjoy seminars and lectures or space for social activities.

And Delaware’s libraries provide most, if not all of these amenities while at the same time providing more incentives for people to simply pick up a book and read.

Delaware librarians and their counterparts nationwide observe National Library Week April 7 through April 13.  The American Library Association announced in January that philanthropist Melinda Gates would be honorary chairwoman.

“In addition to providing communities with access to ideas and information, libraries play an important role in our public life by encouraging creativity, promoting equality, and serving as a source of empowerment,” Gates said in a statement. “This week, and every week, library workers deserve our support and our gratitude.”

Over the past two decades, Gates and her Global Library Initiative has invested more than $1 billion to improve libraries across the world.

Changes through technology

Once, people thought of libraries as places to borrow a copy of the latest novel or where schoolchildren could find material for book reports. But soon after the turn of the new century, things began to change – because they had to. With the burgeoning use of websites and the resulting availability of billions of information sources, the typical library was in danger of becoming obsolete.

“Our profession has changed,” Delaware State Librarian Annie Norman said. “Now people can get simple information themselves. When we see them, they either have harder issues or they need help with basic needs.”

Grants from the Global Library Initiative starting in the early 2000s helped Delaware libraries become more tech-savvy, Norman said. Through the program, libraries installed public-use computers and linked up to an electronic catalog that gave Delawareans access to holdings in 33 public libraries across the state.

These efforts were only the beginning, Norman said.

“At the end of the 2000s when the recession hit, people who had lost their jobs and had never used a computer started coming in,” she said. “Job applications were online but they didn’t know how to use a computer or apply online. They were under a lot of stress and needed help.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation responded by putting job centers at libraries in Dover, Georgetown, Seaford, and Wilmington. This was the first step.

Yet during the recession, there weren’t that many jobs to be had. People needed to create jobs themselves, Norman said, so library staff members went a step beyond by providing access to job information. They established partnerships with government and civic groups to help people start their own businesses. Libraries started fostering entrepreneurship.

Lewes: Job fairs, moon views

The value of these public/private partnerships is evident throughout the state, but particularly at the Lewes Public Library.  “A lot of our attendance is driven by the programs we provide,” Director Lea Rosell said. Some programs are driven by the large number of home-schooled students in Sussex County who use the library extensively.

“One of the more interesting things is home-schooled families that are looking for educational and social opportunities,” Rosell said. “It’s good to host these families so they can meet and share resources and ideas.”

The library helps these students expand their learning by sponsoring outside groups that come in with more programming at different grade levels.

“To many families, we’ve become their de facto school library,” Rosell said.

In recent weeks the library sponsored a teen job fair that saw more than 300 applications turned in. It was a great success, Rosell said.

“We invite local businesses that hire teens for summer work,” she said. “Some do interviews that day, some hire on the spot.”

The week before, the library sponsored preparatory workshops on how to fill out job applications and apply for work permits. There was a financial literacy class to show teens the best way to handle money and build their credit history.

This year, in commemoration of the anniversary of the Apollo lunar landings, the library is providing telescopes so patrons will be able to look at the moon and stars. Closer to home, it sponsors book clubs and even a cookbook club, where readers prepare meals from a given recipe and have a potluck with the resulting meals at the end of each month.  On tap is a children’s version of the same program, Rosell said.

Dover: New opportunities

Margie Cyr, Dover Public Library director sees libraries leading the pack when it comes to serving the public.

“I think we’re doing a lot of experimentation and doing new things,” she said. “There’s a lot of excitement about what’s happening.”

The 2012 opening of its new building gave residents a fresh opportunity to take advantage of library resources, Cyr said.

“We’ve really expanded our programming and enrichment opportunities offered to our adult population,” she said. “We’ve always been good at providing that for the kids, but in the last seven years, our staff has really worked hard to expand the same opportunities for adults.

“When you serve all the people you have to offer a wide variety of experiences because not everyone likes the same things.”

Concerts, film screenings, historical and informational lectures, and computer classes are one offer. During National Library Week, there are plans for a sexual assault awareness program and a working model train setup.

The library has an active small business center and, since 2009, has sponsored a walk-in job center. There are classes on marketing, financial literacy, money management, and work to support those entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses.

And of course, there are thousands of books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs for checkout. That’s not really new, but working through Norman’s Division of Public Libraries, customers may browse through more thousands of electronic books and download them to computers, phones, and tablets.

Milton: Festivals and summer reading

Founded in 1875, the Milton library is one of the state’s oldest.  But its age doesn’t mean it’s stuck in the past: the staff has gone all-out staying ahead of technology, Milton Library Director Mary Catherine Hopkins said.

In addition, a quiet place to read or to search online for information, Milton has yoga programs, Medicare information, long-term nursing and child care from employees of the Division of Health and Social Services, and assistance from the Department of Labor on jobs and career planning.

The area’s growing number of Spanish speakers has resulted in free English classes for them.

A countywide book festival is coming May 4, bringing in 13 Delmarva-area authors to sell and autograph their books. 

Hopkins has much praise for the summer reading program for school children.

“Our goal is for them to maintain the skills they’ve learned in school over the summer, to foster an appreciation for the library and to encourage a lifelong love of reading and learning,” she said. 

Milton’s library was one of the first to obtain a 3D printer through the state and has demonstrated the use of virtual reality.

“We’re trying new things all the time,” Hopkins said.

Kent’s mobile library

Sometimes if people can’t come to the library, it comes to them. The Kent County Public Library has the means to do that, Director Hilary Welliver said.

For more than 25 years, a bookmobile has made the rounds throughout Kent County. And perhaps it’s significant that Wednesday, April 10, is “Bookmobile Day” during National Library Week.  A new bookmobile, a Mercedes Sprinter van, went into service in February. Dubbed “Linus,” it replaced a problem-plagued box van, known affectionately as “Lucy.”

Lucy was named in honor of the late Lucy Urban of Hartly. With her brother, Walter, she had bequeathed money for it. But many people thought it was named after the “Peanuts” character who plays psychiatrist to the hapless Charlie Brown.

So, when Lucy was retired, Welliver’s staff decided “Linus” would be an appropriate moniker for the replacement.

“Linus is the philosopher of the Peanuts group,” Welliver explained. “He’s the deep thinker, so we thought that was a good choice.”

The new van makes two stops a day, four days a week, and rotates among the county’s parks Saturdays, hitting spots in every Levy Court district.

Books aren’t the only thing Linus brings. The van features a Wi-Fi hot spot, internet-ready workstations, phone chargers, eTablets loaded with educational software, a printer, plus kid-friendly activities.

“Linus is a very visible reminder of our library and also reminds people they have this option of a mobile library,” Welliver said.

“People always have wanted access to information and I don’t think that’s changed throughout the years. Whether it’s on wheels or brick and mortar, that will never change.”

Everyone needs a Friend

Of course, it takes money to run public libraries and in Delaware, most funding is appropriated by the General Assembly.

Gov. John Carney has called for $4.36 million to be allocated for their operational expenses in the state’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget, and state funding is traditionally supplemented by public and private grants.

Sometimes the libraries have to go looking for operating funds on their own.

Such is the case with the Lewes Public Library, Rosell said.

“Libraries in Sussex County are a horse of a different color from those in Kent and New Castle counties,” she said. “We’re an independent library and have to spend a lot of time raising money.”

In the past fiscal year, the state provided 10 percent of her library’s budget; Sussex County covered another 36 percent, but it was up to those in charge of the library to raise the rest, Rosell said.

“We did it with fundraisers,” she said. “The folks in Lewes have been terrifically supportive of our library.”

Many libraries also depend on citizens who organize with the specific intent of finding money.

Kay Bowes, who is president of the Friends of the Brandywine Hundred Library and of the statewide Friends of the Delaware Libraries, said almost all of the state’s public libraries have similar organizations. Some are quite active, some not.

“About 20 years ago, all most Friends groups would do was fundraise, mostly with book sales,” she said.

That’s changed, Bowes said.

“Now a big part of being a Friend is to advocate for the library, especially with legislators, community leaders, and elected officials,” she said.

“We let people know how important a library is to a community and what libraries provide in the community,” Bowes said. “Friends groups go out and get things the state, county or city cannot provide.”

Improvements aren’t necessarily related to books or technology, she added. The Friends of the Bear Library paid for three wind sculptures in front of their building, while her own Brandywine Hundred Friends saw to the landscaping there.

Members of the different Friends groups get a lot of satisfaction from their work, Bowes said.

“They see what their Friends group is doing for their library, that their library is getting improved services and that they’re a part of that,” she said. “They appreciate the library and so they want to give them what they can.

“It’s a very good feeling kind of thing.”