By Art Petrosemolo
Will today’s 5-year-olds use the library when they are 15?
It’s a good question. But fear not, it appears children of the new millennia have not abandoned their local library; they have embraced it.
Kids may be using iPads as young as age 3 but they also enjoy sitting on the floor to hear a story from a children’s librarian, taking part in an activity based on a popular book series like The Hunger Games or just finding a quiet spot to connect to the Internet and do homework – many times working on an assignment that combines digital research and hardcover books.
Libraries have made adjustments in the past few years to embrace new technology to meet the changing needs of patrons. The Monmouth County Library system, second largest in the state with a quarter-million cardholders, has always had a strong focus on involving children – some as young as l0 months – in library activities.
That being said, it just isn’t the same old library today for children and child librarians. The county system has 13 branches employing 109 librarians and staff including 15 librarians dedicated to children into their teens.
Branch libraries and headquarters work together to prepare and present programs that draw youngsters to their facilities. These are updated regularly and can be run at one or more branches or rotated throughout the system.
Coleen Dee Berry, the library system’s public participation specialist says in 2012 some 138,000 individuals participated in library programs and of that 58,000 were children. The total is down from 2011 primarily because of the havoc caused by Super Storm Sandy with libraries closed and families displaced.
However, the library also was a blessing for many families during the storm’s aftermath according to Dawna McClendon, Eastern Monmouth Branch children’s librarian. McClendon, a 26-year veteran, said many families actually discovered the library and its programs while looking for things to do during the storm recovery period.
Janet Kranis, a library professional, is the chief librarian at the Eastern Branch. She stressed, “Libraries have had to change with the time to serve patrons from the very young to seniors.” Kranis describes a variety of activities that starts with babies listening to stories and playing in sessions with their parents to programs for children in reading, Legos or other games. Kranis reminds all that mega-series stories like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games did not start as movies but as books and teens swarmed to read them and be involved in programs created around those themes.
For adults, the county library system hosts lectures, cultural programs, movies, and even professional help for job seekers. And every spring, the library has volunteers who help with tax preparation. All library programs are free which is not always known and a surprise to some participants.
Library use is seasonal and has its peaks and valleys but a younger generation has found the library to be a place where the newest technologies fit right in with quiet reading and study year-round. The county library also reaches out to its tech-savvy patrons by using social media including three Facebook pages, a YouTube channel and a Pinterest page. Recently, Library On The Go was added, allowing cardholders to download books to read on digital devices.
The Eastern Branch on Broad Street, Shrewsbury, went through a major rebuild within the past 10 years adding space and updating facilities. During the past year, Kranis says, additional electrical charging stations were added as more visitors were bringing laptops and notebook devices to the library.
Libraries also serve as a meeting place for students and tutors. The library provides quiet rooms for study and research and allows quiet conversations in its sitting areas.
On a cool morning a few weeks ago, young children with parents or sitters came to the Eastern Branch for storytelling with McClendon and library associate Laura Migliore. The pair worked their magic on preschool children with stories, finger games and structured play.
Waiting for storytelling to begin, a wide-eyed, nearly 3-year-old Anthony Barney of Oceanport adjusted large headphones like a teen listening to his favorite music group. He then proceeded to operate a high-tech learning computer for children who are much too young to read or keyboard. With a touch screen and friendly characters young Barney recognized from TV, he worked like a computer pro while his dad Tony smiled in amazement.
Joshua Kripaitis of Oceanport, an active 3-year old, was keeping his sitter Karen Koenig busy with a puzzle at an activity table post-story time. “This space is magical and there is so much to keep the children busy,” Koenig said. “Joshua is comfortable with an iPad and learned easily because his older brothers used one but he is just as happy here with puzzles and storytelling.”
In the not too distant past, a library judged how successful it was in serving the community on its circulation. Today, a library is so much more than checking out the latest John Grisham novel. Cutting edge programs and digital services for children through seniors blend with traditional book clubs discussions and other programs bringing the services of the library and its professional staff to a new generation – a generation not ready to abandon all for the digital world.