Southold libraries lend out much more than just books

These are not your parents’ librarians.

Southold’s four library directors agreed to sit down with The Suffolk Times this week for a wide-ranging discussion about the evolution of their profession from the days of dusty card catalogs and late fees to managing an ever-expanding, multimedia “library of things” and a widening range of community services.

In addition to traditional duties, today’s librarians are tech experts, art curators, cultural ambassadors, seed distributors — even passport agents.

Each library’s growing library of things allows residents to borrow rather than buy random items that they may only use once or twice. Any Southold resident with a library card can borrow a fishing pole, a Mahjong board, a Kindle e-reader or a wireless hotspot device. They can borrow a metal detector, a ukulele, a 3D printing pen, bocce balls, a karaoke machine or a tripod for a cell phone. There are jigsaw puzzles, blood pressure monitors, microscopes and many more surprising items — all donated by patrons and all free of charge.

“I had one guy donate fish for our fish tank,” Southold Free Library director Caroline MacArthur said with a smile.

Ellen Nasto, director of Greenport’s Floyd Memorial Library, said libraries are continually expanding their offerings through donations.

“It’s random things, outside of the normal materials that libraries offer,” she said. “So for example, somebody just requested — and we added — a baby monitor. There’s a bike pump, there’s a tent [for hosting events] … I know a director whose favorite thing is her baking pans.”

Even virtual reality headsets are available — “the kind of things that maybe you don’t want to buy, but you want to test out,” Ms. Nasto said.

One of the most popular springtime services offered are free seed libraries for vegetables, plants and herbs.

“People take the seeds like you wouldn’t believe,” said Ms. MacArthur. “They’re so excited.”  

This summer in Southold, library resources include everything from an all ages coding class and English as a Second Language programs to online parenting support videos. There are beginner crochet and fig growing classes. There’s free access to the historical archives of dozens of regional newspapers, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Newsday. The libraries lend out free museum passes for both Long Island and New York City museums.

Some Southold libraries have started hosting a part-time social worker to counsel community members in need and help low-income patrons apply for government services like food stamps and medical benefits.

Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library director Rosemary Winters said that some people might be surprised at what the library has to offer these days, including corn hole boxes and other outdoor games.

“People have these events and they don’t want to purchase all of these items — and they shouldn’t,” she said. “They can come and [borrow] that stuff.”

Ms. MacArthur said librarians have long been early adopters of new technology.

“Before anyone had them, we loaned [e-readers] out to patrons to try them out for a week and see if you want to buy a Kindle or not.”

Today’s community libraries are in the midst of a decade long shift from physical to digital lending. E-book usage has been growing for years while physical book borrowing has remained steady at best, according to Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System. Last year, Suffolk residents checked out more than 3.4 million e-books and digital audio, compared with 3.8 million physical books.

“Over the last decade, we’ve evolved … to where now we’re just about 50/50,” Mr. Verbesey said. “Now about half the items patrons borrow, they borrow in electronic formats.”

Tech support has become a vital function for local libraries, the directors said.

“I found that’s one of the most important things we offer,” Ms. Winters said. “You can go to the library and ask any question that you want for your laptop, your phone, your camera, anything like that.”

Ms. Winters has set up patrons’ online accounts for bill paying, explained how authentication codes work and showed a senior how to attach a file to an email.

“We get questions like ‘I have 40,000 photos, and I don’t know what to do with them,’” she said. “So we help them save them onto an appropriate location.”

Shauna Scholl, director of the Mattituck-Laurel Library, said social media has been a major driver of community engagement and a great complement to her library’s newsletter.

“For us, it’s now huge,” she said. “We have a full-time person dedicated to it. She’s our tech person and our social media person and she does all our marketing and social media, and then takes [one-on-one] tech appointments in the building. She’s dedicated a huge amount of time to boosting our presence on social media, and we’ve seen so much more engagement.”

Meanwhile, the directors have their own countywide SCLS library of things to tap into when they need it.

“If we wanted to do a ribbon-cutting and we wanted a giant pair of gold scissors, we could borrow it from them,” Ms. Nasto said.  

Most libraries are authorized U.S. passport services facilities, and this summer local kids can get in on the game. Last year, the SCLS launched a popular countywide children’s program called the Summer Tour. The county distributes “passports” to young people and gives each of the county’s 56 library districts a unique stamp. The more stamps collected across Suffolk County, the better chances the child has of winning a raffle for a Nook or Barnes & Noble gift cards.

Last summer, Ms. Nasto said “we were seeing people from Western Suffolk coming in.”

From left, Rosemary Winters, Shauna Scholl, Ellen Nasto and Caroline MacArthur. (Credit: Chris Francescani)

Ms. MacArthur, who recently celebrated her 26th year at the Southold Free Library, said another sign of the times is the changing nature of the libraries themselves — which have evolved into bustling cultural and tech hubs with programming that can run from morning until late in the evening during peak times.

“A complaint I get more regularly than probably anything else is, ‘the library is too noisy.’”

She said that every library provides rooms for silent study, but that “in this day and age, libraries are not quiet, ‘shushing’ libraries.”

Ms. Nasto concurred.

“I’ve gotten some pretty heinous complaints from people that say ‘you just don’t run a quiet library.’

“If you walk in upstairs [at the Floyd Memorial Library], everybody knows each other, so they’re going to be talking [and] I encourage that.”

Mr. Veserbey said that when it comes to changing technology, librarians try and stay way ahead of every curve.

“We’re committed as a profession to the idea of professional development and continuing education. All these technologies come with a learning curve … and the first thing that has to happen is the librarians and the staff have to know them and understand them and be able to use them, so that they can provide these services to their communities.”

Source link