Evolving Libraries

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The days of municipal libraries just offering books have changed. Libraries now offer iPads concierges, computers and even live chats with experts you can “check out.” Barbara Roberts, Tempe Deputy Community Services Director of Library & Cultural Services Division, will discuss how libraries have evolved.

Ted Simons: Things are changing at your local public library. The books are still there, but so are a variety of other amenities and services. We'll hear from a Tempe official about evolving libraries, but first, producer Christina Estes and videographer Scot Olson show us how Tempe's library is changing to meet the community's needs.

Christina Estes: It's 10:00 on a Tuesday morning and the entrance to the Tempe public library is packed.

Sarah Kaufman: We have families and children rushing in.

Christina Estes: Most head down the stairs for story time. About 150 kids fill this room twice a week. To wiggle, giggle and read a little.

Sarah Kaufman: It's a heavy draw for families who are looking for something free and fun to do.

Christina Estes: Parents also like the summer reading program where kids win prizes for finishing books.

Sarah Kaufman: We're probably going to have like families show up.

Christina Estes: Librarians want their office to be attractive to everyone.

Sarah Kaufman: I think libraries have really worked towards being more welcoming and more inviting to the community and realizing that the community has different needs.

Christina Estes: A concierge greets people at the front door and a few steps away is the cafe.

Sarah Kaufman: There's ample seating. Great place to hang out and stay cool all summer.

Christina Estes: Summer break brings plenty of young people to the teen center. Computers, comfy chairs and even a video gaming club draws them in.

Sarah Kaufman: Teens can come and just hang out and socialize and play video games in groups or on their own.

Christina Estes: Between all the computers, coffee meetings and lively programs, you can still find plenty of books and one designated room where you'll be shushed for talking.

Ted Simons: Here now to talk about the changing nature of local public libraries is Barbara Roberts, Tempe's deputy director of community services in the library and cultural services division. Quite the title there.

Barbara Roberts: It's way too long.

Ted Simons: Well, welcome to the program.

Barbara Roberts: Thank you very much.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here. What is a public library?

Barbara Roberts: A public library is the last great democratic bastion of society's hopes and dreams. That's the official version. But a public library is whatever the user needs it to be. They are evolving so that we address the actual real-life needs of people in their everyday lives.

Ted Simons: Has the library's mission changed over the years and, if so, how?

Barbara Roberts: If you think back maybe to when you were young our even not so long ago, maybe 15, 10 years ago, people still thought of libraries as warehouses. You went to the warehouse, you get some stuff, you checked it out and you went home. Now, libraries are not so much a place to get things as a place to discover things. They've become active. It's gone from being a noun to a verb. It's active, it's engaging, people discover, they learn, they connect. So it's quite the active place.

Ted Simons: How much have computers changed this particular atmosphere?

Barbara Roberts: Computers have changed the atmosphere in the library in that people expect to be able to have them there and use them but the actual public library itself inside hasn't changed that much because of computers. However, the way people use libraries with computers has changed because they don't have to actually come to the brick-and-mortar building. They can use their computer from home and it would be as if they were in the library searching the collection. They can search for something at home, they can get it through a database, print it off at home or they can search our catalog online, download a book to their computer or mobile device and check it out and they're ready to go.

Ted Simons: Does that mean that fewer people are going to libraries because those services are there right in the living room?

Barbara Roberts: Libraries generally across the country have seen a gradual drop in people actually coming to the building because of those things but, in fact, the use of libraries and the services and the virtualness of what we do is increasing. So it's kind of a give-and-take.

Ted Simons: We saw the kids singing and dancing, we saw story time and those sorts of things. Why at a library and why is that important?

Barbara Roberts: Oh, why the library, why not? A library is a place where children to know that they can go and be themselves and discover and enjoy and have fun and that it's not a place that's going to tell them to be quiet and they can discover that they like to sing, they can discover that being with mom or dad or their caregivers at a story time is a time of bonding and all of that jumping around and all of that, believe it or not, actually addresses fine motor skills for young children.

Ted Simons: I just know when I was a kid if I started singing and dancing, they would show me the door, go that direction, that's changed!

Barbara Roberts: Yes, come on down again and relive.

Ted Simons: Teenagers on video games again, why the library and why is that important? I would think would want a little more engagement with the teenagers.

Barbara Roberts: Well, it's a hook. It's a hook. They come in for that and they stay and learn about other things. We do have a lot of video games the kids play but there are also kids who come in and maybe they're tired of the computer, they push back, they look around and they discover oh, my gosh, look at graphic novels, look, DVDs and they discover other things and they connect with other kids who have read a great book and before you know it, they're reading.

Ted Simons: With -- it almost seems like libraries are becoming more like community centers.

Barbara Roberts: They're becoming community engagement places. Community centers sometimes has a connotation of perhaps some other types of services but they definitely are community connection places. People connect with each other, they connect with information. They connect with the world. So they can be considered a community location certainly.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, the training for librarians, has that changed?

Barbara Roberts: Well, the degree has not changed. To be a librarian technically you need to have a master's degree in library and information science. So that has not changed. But the curriculum leading up to that title has drastically changed and, as a matter of fact, there are some libraries that are requiring their librarians to have degrees in social work. They're requiring them to have degrees in business development, public service, and that's because the nature of the people we serve has changed over the years. It's not just those folks who want to read a back.

Ted Simons: It's the community right now.

Barbara Roberts: It's the general public, very diverse community.

Ted Simons: Well, thank you so much for joining us and telling us more about -- we've got to get down there and check the library out.

Barbara Roberts: You really do.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Barbara Roberts: Tempe Deputy Community Services, Director of Library & Cultural Services Division;

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