Providing books, information, children's events, meeting places

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 due to 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.

Hockessin: Homework helper and meeting place

New Castle County community services director Diana Brown said the county is dedicated to expanding the library system, including new and innovative programs like the kindergarten readiness initiative.

“One of the things we know is that our libraries differ in terms of what is of the most interest to people, whether its computers or wireless service or our programs,” she said.

In Hockessin, Brown said that the library on average sees a number of students using the facility for homework after school.

“If you walk through the library on weeknights or weekends, it really jumps out at you,” she said. “And they’re working individually or collaboratively on school projects.”

Hockessin is also a heavy reader community, Brown said, with a consistently high readership for print media.

Brown noted that in most cases, libraries continue to be places where the community gathers for various reasons, noting that a recent community meeting held by Sen. Dave Sokola in Hockessin saw a packed house. During the holiday season, the annual performance of “How the Grinch Stole Who-ckessin” draws a large crowd.

“We see people come to libraries a lot and for many different things,” she said. “Every library is in partnership with groups in its area, and we have a lot going on.”

Middletown: New library planned

Representatives from the New Castle County Division of Libraries have been asking Middletown-area residents what they’d like to see in their new library, to be built on vacant property on East Main Street (Route 299), just west of the post office.

As previously announced in the Transcript, the county hosted a community meeting about the library April 8, after the Transcript’s deadline, when residents could hear updated plans and offer suggestions about the programs that should be offered and the way the building should look.

Preliminary plans call for a 25,000 square-foot building, more than double the size of the county’s Appoquinimink Community Library at 651 N. Broad St., where the library leases office space of about 7,000 square feet with a 3,000 square-foot activity center.

Appoquinimink Community Library Manager Kevin Swed said the new, larger library will provide more room for the library’s collection of books and reference materials, along with more meeting room space.

“We’ll have a lot of new amenities. Right now we’re limited by space,” he said.

The state and county governments have each appropriated $5 million, and funding will also come from private donations like the Friends of the Library building fund, said Jason Miller, director of communications for New Castle County.

“This $10 million appropriation received so far allows the project to move forward. The entire project budget at this time is estimated at $24 million,” Miller said.

Smyrna: Tradition and technology

Although books still bring more people to the library than anything else, computers are the second largest draw, said Director Beverly Hirt, especially since the library has wireless accessibility.

“Bring your own laptop, sit and relax,” said Hirt. “With the library having wireless capability we are seeing more electronic device usage. Patrons can download free information onto their tablets, computers or smartphones using our free wireless network.”

Hirt said the Delaware Division of Libraries offers many free programs at www.lib.de.us but remember, you must have a Delaware Library card. The programs are free like the new digital magazines at www.lib.de.us/flipster. They also offer an app for smartphones to access the Delaware Catalog to put books on hold, manage your account, ask a question, and other services.

Children come to the library after school to use the computers for homework and online research and reference. In addition to the internet-accessible computers, the library also has an Early Literacy Station computer in the children’s room that does not access the internet, instead it teaches math and other educational programs to children 2-10 years of age.

The Delaware Collection is also a unique, often an overlooked aspect of the Smyrna library. These books were either written by Delaware authors or about the state of Delaware. Some are fiction, others are non-fiction and many are out of print. Hirt said some of these historical books can be checked out of the library; others are reference and cannot be checked out.

The library’s extensive movie collection is also popular. Several shelves are packed with titles for all ages. The library’s collection is constantly changing. Borrowing movies from the library is free with a library card.

Story times for children ages 3 to 6 are held at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Friday in the library’s downstairs conference room. Children hear a story and do a related craft. In addition to helping children get comfortable with the library, Hirt said this program also helps those who are not in school to practice with scissors and glue.

“It’s great for motor skills,” she said.

Tiny Tots story time is for the youngest children up to age 3, every Wednesday in the meeting room at 10 a.m.

“It’s to introduce children to the library, plus they can interact with other children,” Hirt said.

The Tiny Tots also practice their counting and alphabet.

When school classes end, the library starts the Summer Reading Program with prizes and special events.

“It helps everyone maintain their reading skills throughout the summer,” Hirt said. “And it’s fun for everyone.”

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.

In Smyrna, the library has a book-sale room, where nothing costs more than $2. It is open daily and holds “special sales” several times a year.

“People come every day to purchase books we no longer keep on our shelves,” Hirt said.

Adult paperbacks are 25 cents or less, hardbacks are 50 cents or as price marked, children’s books sell for 10 cents to 25 cents. The library also sells videos, audio CDs, music CDs, and magazines for $1 or less.

Proceeds from sales support the Summer Reading Program for children and new book purchases.

The library also seeks businesses to sponsor the Summer Reading Program help offset the costs.

Meanwhile, the Friends of the Duck Creek Regional Library group has been raising funds to build a new, larger library in the Smyrna area. For more information, visit the group’s website at http://duckcreekregionallibrary.org.

At the Lewes Public Library, the state provided 10 percent of the budget; Sussex County covered another 36 percent, but it was up to those in charge of the library to raise the rest.

“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.”

LIBRARIES AND HOURS - Hockessin, Middletown and Smyrna areas

Hockessin Public Library

1023 Valley Road, Hockessin

Hours: Monday to Wednesday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m.

Phone: 302-239-5160

Appoquinimink Public Library

651 North Broad St., Middletown

Hours: Monday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday from 1-8 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Phone: 302-378-5588

Corbit-Calloway Memorial Library

115 High St., Odessa

Hours: Monday and Thursday from 1-8 p.m.; Tuesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Satursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Phone: 302-378-8838

Smyrna Public Library

107 S. Main St., Smyrna

Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Phone: 302-653-4579