As a kid, I remember my parents taking me to the Mission Viejo Library often. I would wander around the tall bookshelves, hide away in corners to read my favorite stories, and browse the large encyclopedias for school projects. In college, the library was the place to read the newspaper, write research papers using book sources, and find friends to hang out with. But now, as an adult, my own book collection is continually replaced by the convenience of electronic books (ebooks) and I can find any information on the Internet. Are libraries becoming outdated?
Genesis Hansen, the Director of Library and Cultural Services at Mission Viejo Library in Southern California, has heard plenty of people say that libraries aren’t necessary, aren’t used and are dead, even. Her response: “I think, ‘you haven’t actually been inside one in a long time have you?’ Because we are busy constantly and our use is growing not declining.”
Hansen said that libraries still play an integral role in promoting reading for education and pleasure, and that librarians help people “find more and better books; the ones that challenge and expand thinking and the ones you don’t want to put down.”
Hansen also said that libraries protect an essential American value: freedom. “We support and defend intellectual freedom and free access to information and resources.
“We don’t just find answers for people, we help them develop skills to find answers themselves,” she continued. “We help people develop critical thinking and evaluation skills that are essential to being an informed citizen. It’s not just about providing information, but providing the tools to turn information into knowledge.”
So what about the libraries in Mono County?
“In my opinion, libraries are so important because we offer everything for free and we offer access to it,” said Ana Danielson, Interim Mono County Library Director. “They should reflect the needs of the community, in scheduling programs, providing resources at zero costs, and improving technological literacy.”
Mono County operates seven library branches in Benton, Bridgeport, Coleville, Crowley Lake, June Lake, Lee Vining and Mammoth Lakes, as well as the Bookmobile, which routinely services the more rural communities in the County.
In Mammoth, approximately 8,200 people visited the Library, averaging a few hundred a day this July alone. “A good percentage of people use the library for free internet services,” Danielson said. “But they come for traditional reasons as well.”
The June and Crowley Lake branches are much busier in the summer, but Mammoth is steady year round, according to Danielson. While there are more tourist visitors during the summer months (due to extended lengths of stay, according to Danielson), the library is “mobbed” after the Mammoth schools get out across the street. “It’s some place to hang out,” Danielson said. “There’s computers to play on, toys in the kid’s room, and some of the parents who work until 5 tell their kids they will pick them up at the library.”
Over 1,000 adult books were checked out at the Mammoth Branch in July, and over 900 DVDs and 500 audiobooks, including books on tape, which are still in use, according to Danielson. “All of our branches circulate more children and young adult materials than adult materials,” Danielson said, with 1,300 children’s books in circulation in Mammoth last month.
“We try to appeal to everyone, but it’s the little kids and the families that get the most use out of our libraries,” said Sulin Jones, Senior Librarian for Mono County. Jones runs Story Time at the Mammoth branch twice a week, which is the most popular program at the Library. “Kids are still into books. They cuddle in your lap, they can touch the book, and you can point things out,” she said.
But the Mammoth Lakes branch is adapting to technological changes as well. Danielson said that the staff recently went through training for e-readers, where they learned about the various tablets and e-readers available. “Everyone had a chance to play with them, use them so that when someone from the public comes in and has difficulty downloading e-books onto their Kindles we can help,” she said.
In order to encourage electronic reading, the Mammoth Lakes Branch hosts free e-reader workshops twice a week, where brands of e-readers are available for the public to test. Users can download e-books through the library website using a program called Overdrive. Danielson said that e-book check out “is really relatively small,” with only 150 e-book check outs in July, although the number and popularity of e-books is “definitely growing,” she said. She is looking to add more and more books to the electronic collection, especially non-fiction books.
The website also offers free access to a resource database of online magazines, journals, and automotive guides, as well as language software to learn a new language. Plus the Bridgeport and Mammoth branches have law libraries, which can be used to set up businesses, research tax law, and even file for divorce without an attorney.
“Not a lot of people realize that we have that available. And if you have a library card, it’s free,” Danielson said. Library cards are issued to any resident of Mono County and any visitor as well.
Although Danielson and Jones both affirmed the necessity of libraries for free access to information and books, they both admitted libraries in smaller communities are evolving.
“Libraries are moving in the direction of becoming community centers,” Jones said. “You can get your information anywhere you want, but you can’t get your community anywhere.”
“It really functions as a community center and what’s so awesome about that is that we can really host nearly anything,” Danielson agreed.
The Mammoth Lakes Library hosts several meetings for service organizations, music groups, and County departments. They are developing a “maker space” workshop with a variety of tools, including sewing machines, 3D printers, and glue guns, so people can “play around and do projects,” Danielson said. “It’s a huge conversation in the library world: where are we moving and how can we keep up?”
The libraries in Mono County are funded mostly through property taxes and Friends of the Library groups. “They support our book collection, our children’s program, and provide a literacy endowment,” Danielson said. “They are a huge source of funds and volunteers for us.”
Check out the Friends of the Library annual used book sale at the Mammoth Lakes Branch on Friday, August 29, 11 a.m to 5 p.m., and Saturday, August 30, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
As multi-media collections continue to grow, the librarians have to “weed” the book collection, Danielson said. Circulation and condition of individual books are analyzed before the librarians decide which ones to sell.
“When we’re looking at nonfiction, we ask, ‘Is this information still relevant?’” she said. “And we won’t get rid of any classics even if our shelves are jam packed.”
In the end, libraries are still very much alive and used regularly for a variety of different reasons. And “people love the idea of libraries. They might not visit all the time, but they are proud of ours,” Jones said. “Libraries are open free public spaces. We don’t have a lot of that in the world anymore.”