Local libraries offer much more than books | lifestyles

Area libraries are providing there’s more between the stacks than books.

For years, library directors said, libraries have been expanding programming.

“It’s definitely a thing, and I’m going to say for about 10 or 15 years,” Tina Winstead, executive director at Oneonta’s Huntington Memorial Library, said. “Libraries are always assessing and looking at what a community needs, and the overarching viewpoint that so many libraries across the country and in towns (arrived at) is that they needed a community center feel. They wanted to do programming, but the programming … was more hands-on and (about) makers and finding a community of people that like what you like.

“Forty years ago, libraries were only about books,” she continued, “but we’re trying to prove that no, in fact, libraries are about lifelong learning and doing things that enrich people educationally, and that is well within the mission of every library.”

“We’re trying to reach out to all age levels,” Beth Paine, director of the Sidney Memorial Public Library, echoed. “When people think of libraries, they think of children’s programming, but that’s not what we’re doing; it’s all ages. The programming has expanded a lot and the public library is … trying to cover everything that could possibly be needed.”

Delhi’s Cannon Free Library and Sidney and Oneonta’s public libraries provide children’s, youth and adult programming.

“We kind of divide our programming into literacy and digital literacy,” Winstead said. “Literacy… is really the hallmark of libraries, and we’re really pushing early literacy, which is over Zoom, with a different theme every week, because we understand how hard it is to get kids on there. And we’re going to do, outdoors in the park, a monthly messy ‘Art in the Park’ for kids. We also reach out to area nursery schools and Jumpstart and do early literacy programs there. And we have weekly afternoon adventures, for school-age kids, where they pick up a kit every week. If they can’t be in the library, we bring the library to them.”

Huntington’s digital literacy efforts, Winstead said, include a weekly Minecraft club and “take-and-make” boxes.

“It’s a lot like a subscription box, and there are two types: a STEAM-oriented and a craft-oriented one, and there are two different levels,” she said. “And they include resources, especially for the STEAM ones, with other information on that topic.”

For adults and older kids, Winstead said, programming runs the gamut.

“We’re going to really reach out to the middle school kids, because we don’t have a lot of middle school kids signing up for things,” she said. “We’re going to have a hot cocoa club and see what kind of programming they’d like to have. We’re working on having a teen service club, where all the high school teens have to record their service hours in their communities … to fulfill service hours for college applications. Then for our adults, we have ‘Blind Date with a Book,’ where we wrap up a book and patrons can pick them up … and talk about it afterward and that’s always fun. We’re doing photography workshops again and we’ve had a super-popular run of that through COVID. That always fills up and we have great teachers and different topics all the time. We also have a virtual book club for adults and we’re going to get back into doing genealogy.”

Paine said programming at Sidney is varied and growing.

“When I started (three years ago), there was pretty much only a Saturday craft… and some beginner technology classes,” she said. “Since then, we have expanded the arts programming and have a retired art teacher who… has taken on painting classes. This month there is an acrylic painting class and an altered book workshop. We’re trying to get two of those in each month, I’m finally starting genealogy again and we have adult trivia once a month.”

“I run hybrid Lego Club, so kids join at home and in person,” Cassandra Hunter, youth services library clerk at Sidney, said. “I also do a virtual Minecraft Club, so they join from home and they’re in my safe library world… and in-person Minecraft Club is slowly evolving into more technology. I do Teen Night programming in person and ‘Crafts and Creations,’ which is a range of STEM- or STEAM-type projects through crafts.”

Connie Snow, children’s services clerk at Sidney, said, for kids from birth through 5, she offers story time, ‘Music for Munchkins,’ pre-K Library Learners and pre-K STEM.

Programming at Delhi’s library, librarians said, represents traditional and emerging pattern engagement.

“For adults, we have a mahjong group that meets once or twice a week and they’re pretty enthusiastic,” Library Director Susan Frisbee said. “There’s a knitting group that meets once a week and they’ve been meeting for years; regular adult book club, where they read a book and discuss it; and an occasional adult book program where we borrow a set of books from the Humanities New York group and have book discussions in a series. The knitting has been going on for years, so it’s just tradition, but other things … we just threw it out there to see if anyone was interested (via) email or signs in the library and we gauged the interest by the response.”

“I do toddler and baby story time twice a week and, for afterschool programming, ‘Crafternoon’ once a month, which is assorted crafts and snacks,” Lynn Dennis, youth services director at Delhi, said. “On alternate weeks is Lego Club, and that’s really popular … and this year we started some STEM and STEAM programs, like kitchen experiments with baking soda and vinegar and we took apart appliances and then reconstructed them and we’ve built robots. That’s been really fun, and that’s twice a month. Once every couple months, we’re trying to do an evening pajama story time with hot chocolate and books for those kids who maybe used to come (to story time) in the mornings.”

Though librarians said expansion efforts predate the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus’ arrival meant a rapid shift in delivery, with some unexpected benefits.

“When COVID happened, we had big attendance for programs that we then had to evolve into offering virtually,” Paine said. “I was like, ‘Here you are, do it,’ (to the clerks), and they stepped up hard. I was very lucky; they immediately started doing virtual programming and they weren’t comfortable to start with, but took it on quickly and well and, since then, because COVID is still happening, we’re keeping some virtual offerings and the programming we are offering in person is safe, with people spaced out, masks required and we keep attendance at a certain level. We’re reaching out to different demographics that we didn’t reach before COVID, so even though it’s cut down some things, it’s opened us up to other things.”

“We’re in a hard place right now because of COVID,” Hunter said. “Our numbers have increased, but they’re still not what they were. On a positive note, we’ve had a huge increase in home-school children attending programming. More than half the attendance at my programs (is) home-schoolers, so that’s a neat thing to come out of it.”

“One thing we’ve learned through the pandemic, is people like getting out to see other people,” Frisbee said. “For our adult programming, sometimes the older adults don’t have the opportunity … to see their groups of people otherwise.”

Offerings, librarians said, correspond to community members’ interests.

“A lot of the stuff I do is through research,” Paine said. “I read ‘Library Journal’ and look at what other libraries in the area are doing and I talk to other directors and see what’s been a success, then give it a shot. We’ve had ones where nobody shows up and we don’t do it again, and others we’re not sure about… are huge.

“Through CDO Workforce, we’ve had some computer classes for job prep, how to use a computer and resumes,” she continued. “I’ve had people suggest classes and presentations and I rarely ever say no if it’s something I think the community will enjoy or need. Community input is huge for us.”

“We get a lot of positive feedback from parents,” Hunter said. “(Kids) bring in friends; that’s how I ended up with such a big home-school group. (Patrons) will come up to the desk and a parent or caregiver will say how much fun they had … and it’s nice to hear.”

“The only tricky part is making sure we do something people want,” Winstead said. “It’s a bit of a guess, based on interactions and surveys, but we still never know. And (we consider) if other organizations are hosting something that same time and day, so that’s a huge piece of strategizing.

“(The response) is positive,” she continued, “because otherwise, we wouldn’t keep doing it. We’re constantly tweaking and talking to people, (asking), ‘What do you want to know, what do you want to learn?’ There is definitely a lot of interest. It’s harder in Oneonta, because there’s a lot going on here, but in other, smaller towns, where there’s not a lot of options, (programming) is even more popular.”

“We get a lot of positive feedback from programs,” Frisbee said. “People seem to be pretty happy, and we get people coming in all the time to thank us for what we do.”

“I think a lot of kids know, if their parents are at work and they’re not doing a sport or dance, the library is a great place to come and do activities and crafts with other kids,” Dennis said. “And it’s a space you can also get a book out on the subject when you’re done.”

Attendee demographics, librarians said, are also diverse.

“We usually have, for adult programming, anywhere from four to five or a dozen (participants),” Frisbee said. “It’s mostly Delhi people, but there’ll be people that come from Walton, Stamford or Andes.”

“I have to report every year to the state what our demographics are,” Paine said, “and for ours, Sidney users are only about 60% and about 40% are from other communities; Unadilla, Afton and Bainbridge are the biggest ones.”

“It’s definitely all over the place,” Winstead said. “Of our patrons, we have a full 40% that do not live in the greater Oneonta area. We’re the biggest library in a pretty good distance, so we pull from well outside the city.”

Though funding can fluctuate, librarians said, libraries remain committed to advancing programming.

“For the past two or three years, we had a family donate $5,000 to the library for programming,” Winstead said. “But we used it, and didn’t get that donation this year, so we’re looking at grants. Unfortunately, programming is a huge component of the library, yet our budget isn’t keeping up with it at all, so it’s a lot of work for us to find money and make sure it’s a sellable idea. That’s definitely a huge barrier for this library, though it isn’t for every library.”

Sidney programming, Paine said, has its Friends of the Libraries group to thank for fiscal support.

“Friends of the Libraries is huge for us, and they do a lot of program funding, especially for teens and children and a lot of our art programs,” she said. “It’s local community members that volunteer their time to have fundraising (events) to support the library. They sponsor (programming) and that helps. There’s also grant money that pays for a lot of programming, so we don’t have then to push it off to the community and the taxes. We try not to have to up that budget each year.”

Frisbee and Dennis said Delhi programming is funded through endowment and grants.

“We’re very lucky,” Frisbee said. “The library is endowed, so we don’t do anything extra for funding, but Lynn did get a grant for youth literature.”

“We also have very generous patrons,” Dennis said. “I think they really do appreciate the programming we do.”

Find the libraries mentioned on Facebook, subscribe to their e-newsletters for programming details, or visit libraries/4cls.org/delhi, hmloneonta.org or sidneylibrary.org.

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