A Boston public library has a place to serve book-themed booze. A library in Maryland has a basketball court just steps away. Another in Delaware has a room for teenagers to play video games.
United States Public Libraries are changing what it means to be a library. Instead of being just places for books, they have become community centers.
“The days when I was basically a book deposit…are finished. They are long gone,” Lea Rosell said. She is director of the Lewes Public Library in the state of Delaware. “We have a quiet room designated in this library. I think it shows that things are changing.
Lewes opened its new library in 2016. Rosell said the newer, larger building has been able to attract new visitors and allowed the library to hold more events. This month, the library hosted events such as book and current affairs talks, film screenings, poetry writing workshops, and Spanish talks. Rosell said one of the most popular events for children this year was when a nature center brought together several reptiles.
The Lewes Library also has a special room for teenagers, with books aimed at teenagers and young adults. In the Teen Tech Suite, they can use things like 3D printers and virtual reality protective glasses.
Delaware Libraries also has a program to send a free book each month to families with young children. The goal is to provide children with a large collection of books in their homes without having to pay for them themselves.
In some communities, libraries are where people to access social services. Rossell said the Lewes Library and other libraries across the state can “fill the shortcomingsin community services. She said that because Delaware is a low-tax state, it doesn’t have many community centers.
Maria McCauley is president of the Public Library Association and director of public libraries in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“There’s so much to the library experience that public libraries now offer,” she said. “It is often about rewarding people’s lives in different ways. And it can be learning a particular skill. It may simply be learning about an idea or problem that is occurring, or it may be appreciating a performance.
The new public library in Wheaton, Maryland opened in 2019 and is attached to a community recreation center. Library director Anita Vasallo said the combined building has attracted new visitors. For example, she said teens who use the recreation center’s basketball court “will walk into the library to see what’s going on.” There are also special spaces in the library for children to do their homework.
McCauley said many libraries across the country have been built alongside other services. In Cambridge, she said of a city to block there is a library, school, community center and athletic center.
Wheaton is in Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the most various counties in the United States. The county’s school system has students from more than 164 countries speaking 184 languages. The diversity of the community dictates much of the library’s programming.
For English learners, the library organizes weekly conversation clubs, where people can talk in English in an informal setting. The library also hosts job fairs and partners with local organizations to help families obtain health insurance. People who cannot afford their own laptop can borrow one from the library.
The American Library Association found that across the country, 76% of libraries help visitors use government programs and services. About 73% help people apply for jobs.
“We really want libraries to be community-based hubs“said Vasallo. “That’s what they’re supposed to be.”
Wheaton and Lewes Libraries have bookstores where visitors can purchase new and used books, often from the library’s collection. The money raised is used to support libraries.
The Wheaton Library also has a cafe. The historic Boston Public Library has a tea room and bar offering drinks such as “Tequila Mockingbird” and “Of Milk and Men.”
“The idea of a library as some kind of quiet place where you come to do your research and think deeply — that’s not really what we do,” Vasallo said. “Libraries can be very busy places which can be noisy. They must be full of life.
I am Dan Novak.
Dan Novak wrote this story for VOA Learning English.
words in this story
deposit — nm a place where a large amount of something is stored
designate -v. choose for a specific purpose or use
reptile — nm a cold-blooded animal that lays eggs and has a hard body
eyeglasses — nm special glasses that fit close to the face
to access -v. be able to enter or use
difference -not. a space between where one thing ends and another begins
enrich -v. improve the quality of something
various — adj. involving many different types or groups of things
to block -not. an area of land surrounded by four streets in a city or town
center — nm a central or most active place