When was the last time you were in a library?
I suspect that the answer is, for a lot of people, either “Not since I left school” or “I can’t remember.” The reason I suspect this is because I continually run into people who genuinely have no idea about everything that libraries now have to offer. Their idea of a library — reinforced by the way in which they are usually depicted in TV shows and movies — is a place that is nothing but books, stretching in every direction as far as the eye can see, where a death-like silence holds sway and a woman (librarians are always women, in TV shows and movies, usually with their hair in a bun and a pair of glasses hanging from a chain around their neck) sits ready to put her finger to her lips and utter an admonishing “Shhhhhh!” if a patron so much as breathes loudly.
Anyone who regularly visits a library knows how outdated this image is (if it was ever true in the first place). Libraries today are vibrant places: still full of books, yes, but with so much more to offer. They have long had newspapers and magazines available, and back in the day had records and cassettes that could be checked out, as well as large print books for the visually impaired. Later they embraced what were then called “books on tape” or “talking books”, and videotapes of movies and TV series, and then DVDs.
When computers came along those were added, giving many people who otherwise had no access to the online world a place where they could log on in their own time. Bright and colourful spaces for children were created, containing books (of course), as well as toys, stuffies, games, puzzles, child-friendly furniture, and more.
Today’s libraries now offer a plethora of online services, many of them accessible from a patron’s home computer. With a few clicks of a mouse people can read a magazine or newspaper, learn a new language, get eBooks and audiobooks, research their family’s ancestry, and more. In this week’s issue you can read more about a new service offered by the Mobile Library that serves the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, which allowed people in rural communities to vote during last year’s municipal election.
There are courses and workshops for people of all ages, teaching everything from computer skills to household finance. You can check out a birding backpack and go birdspotting, get a thermal imaging camera to check your home for draughts, and get a free pass to the BC Wildlife Park. Crafters can drop in and work on projects, book clubs are still going strong, there are events for children of all ages (including a summer reading club), author readings and book signings, seasonal events, and so much more.
Best of all? It’s free. You heard that right: library programs are offered free of charge. All you need in order to take advantage of everything our libraries have to offer is a library card, which takes only minutes to get. It’s hard to think of a better deal than that.
Of all the things that mankind has accomplished, I’d submit that the (seemingly) humble library ranks right up there as one of the best things we’ve ever managed to come up with. They’re evolved from the preserve of scholars to places where all are welcome, and equal, and in a world where so many businesses and organizations fall by the wayside because they’re unable to adapt to a changing world, libraries have taken everything in stride, embracing the new and finding ways to make it accessible to everyone.
So if you can’t remember the last time you were in a library, or only think you know what they have to offer, step inside one and have a look around. You’ll be more than welcome, I guarantee it. And feel free to make some noise: a hearty “thank you” to the nearest librarian would be a great place to start.