The next generation of learning at local libraries
Laptime for Pipsqueaks is a popular activity at Bedford Hills Free Library.
Did you know that you could check out a fishing rod, guitar, or ukulele from your local library? Learn Photoshop or a new language? Take a parenting class or make a quilt? Bedford’s three libraries have evolved into different kinds of gathering spaces, each geared toward the very different populations they serve.
Bedford Hills Free Library
“As public libraries become less a place to store books and more about interpreting information, our job is to educate our constituents about what is available and how to use it,” says executive director Mary Esbjornson. “Bedford Hills has a large immigrant population, mostly Latino, putting us in the unique position of helping them develop literacy skills and become part of our community.” Children and family programs are the cornerstone of any library, and studies have proven that libraries play a key role in early literacy. Bedford Hills enlisted an ESL teacher from one of the elementary schools to reach out to parents of new students, inviting them to “Welcome to the Library” workshops, where they had a tour and learned what the library had to offer.
“Children can get their first library card at age five, so we made a little ceremony out of presenting it to them,” Esbjornson says, noting that the library is building its collection of bilingual storybooks and Spanish novels, and has hired a part-time bilingual staffer. Beyond literacy, the library wants to become a parenting resource. “The Child Care Council of Westchester makes parenting programs available to libraries for free, and in December will be holding our first program in Spanish. We want to be the destination for parents of children five and younger—after all, early literacy starts from birth!”
Bedford Free Library
The building is more than 100 years old, with three decorative fireplaces and lots of inviting nooks for reading, but the technology is decidedly 21st-century modern. “It used to be that people would go to libraries primarily for research or to take out books,” says director Ann Cloonan. “Now people can download audio and ebooks to their phone, Kindle, or Nook. We have public access computers, technology and coding classes, and a mobile printing service: you email us plane tickets and the like and we’ll have them ready within two hours.” Cloonan credits the extensive Westchester Library System (WLS) for the library’s vast and varied offerings: 753 programs last year for adults, young adults, and kids.
“A small library like ours would never be able to offer all that on our own,” she says. “WLS even has sewing machines that libraries can request for classes, and we had a very popular class making quilts out of kids’ old t-shirts.” This is part of a growing trend of “maker spaces,” where people come to learn traditional skills, such as knitting and sewing. Admitting that hers is not a quiet library, Cloonan wants everyone to feel comfortable there, and they do: Students take the bus after school to hang out with friends, do their homework, or meet with a tutor; adults enjoy writing workshops and author series; little ones flock to story times and craft activities.
Katonah Village Library
Library director Mary Kane agrees the maker spaces are the future. “Instead of just books, libraries are becoming ‘libraries of things’ where people gather to learn something new.” Like how to build a doorbell or burglar alarm in a snap circuit class or create custom stickers with the new vinyl cutter. The most exciting ‘thing’ at Katonah is a 3-D printer where patrons can create a design, turn it into a digital file, and then print out something tangible.
“We had the kids make fidget spinners,” says Alana Shizume, the resident tech whiz. “I threw in some trigonometry to make sure angles were correct—we want them to have fun, but learn some basic engineering at the same time.” The 3-D printer isn’t just child’s play. “A plumber came in needing a small part,” Shizume recalls. “Rather than replacing the entire mechanism for $200, he designed the part he needed and printed it out. The best part is, if the part breaks again, we can just print out another one!”
Helping seniors bridge the digital divide is another important area for the library. “People who aren’t comfortable going online come here, and we download tax forms for them,” Kane says. “We can also help with retrieving passwords and accessing voice and emails.” Not everything is high tech or typically found in libraries. Patrons in Katonah can borrow fishing rods and reels, guitars, and ukuleles, and get music lessons for free too!
@ YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY
OverDrive: downloadable audiobooks and eBooks;
Freegal: downloadable music;
Hoopla: movies, TV, music albums, eAudiobooks, eBooks, comics, and graphic novels;
PressReader at Home: full issues of thousands of top newspapers and magazines