Skip to main content

North Hills Monthly

Today’s Libraries about Far More than Lending Books

Jan 29, 2019 03:35PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Northland Public Library

Libraries may be different than those of yesteryear, but they may also be more vital than ever to local communities. Today’s libraries serve as a place for all community members, according to Diane Illis, director of Northern Tier Regional Library.

“The libraries, more than any other community institution, are there for all area residents.  They are available to everyone, 24 hours a day, free of charge,” Illis said.

And not just for one segment of the population.

“For a toddler, the library is the entrance to the world of words and education. For a teen, it is a place of acceptance and inclusion in a sometimes-troubling world. For a displaced worker, it is a job-hunting toolbox–free of charge. For a senior, it is a patient and helping hand when faced with confusing technological advances. The library is each of these things, and so much more,” Illis added.

Northern Tier Regional Library, located in Richland Township, has a branch location at the Pine-Richland High School. While most of their patrons are from those two communities, like many local libraries, they participate in the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA), benefitting from the financial support of the Regional Asset District (RAD) so they provide service to all residents of Allegheny County.

“As a member of Access PA, we will provide a library card to any Pennsylvania resident who shows us a card from their home library,” Illis said.

With 30 years of experience working in libraries, Illis has seen the evolution of community libraries firsthand.

“When the Internet first came into being, people said that would be the end of libraries. But as the saying goes, the Internet can give you a thousand answers, but a librarian can help you find the right one. Libraries just took the Internet in stride and made it an essential part of their service,” she said. 

Suzanna Krispli, director of the Hampton Community Library, agreed.

“We have changed from being the place to find the answers, to the place where you find the correct answer. Maybe it’s in the books that we own or one of our databases, or maybe we find the answer on Google and help you sift through all of the sites. We are also the place now where people come to do their own work. And we offer more community-focused programs,” she said.

Like Illis, Krispli sees the library as a place for everyone in the community.

“We are the last safe place. Libraries even the playing field for everyone. No matter who you are, what you believe, where you work, where you live, whether or not you own an iPod, laptop or 55-inch screen TV, it doesn’t matter to us,” she said. “We are here to help you and maybe more importantly, we recognize that you are here. We say ‘Hello.’ We notice you.”

Bringing Community Together in a 

Myriad of Ways

As community libraries, they are important institutions. But the librarians and staff are just as important to the welfare of the patrons, which is what makes them even more special, according to Krispli.

“We know our community. We are your neighbor; our kids are on the same softball team, we see you at church, at the store or local restaurant. We know your name and we know what you like to read. We may even remember to put that new Patterson novel on hold for you without you even asking. That’s what makes us special,” she said.

But just because they have that personal ‘community’ touch doesn’t mean that they are isolated. Illis said that as a member of ACLA, she meets on a monthly basis with directors from 47 other libraries in the county to share ideas and network.

Libraries also offer special programming and serve as meeting places for community members. In any given month, Northland Public Library has a wealth of reading and discussion groups, community meetings, informational classes and seminars and even hands-on classes. The library setting lends itself to more informal meetings, according to Santina Balestreire, director of marketing and communications for Northland Public Library.

“Libraries serve as a community meeting place where all ages can mix and mingle and learn something new side-by-side,” she said. “We focus on empowering and encouraging lifelong learning and discovery.”

For some local libraries, even the location is part of the uniqueness.

The Andrew Bayne Memorial Library in Bellevue was deeded to the borough by sisters Jane Bayne Teece and Amanda Bayne Balph for use as the library and a park.

“The library is in Jane’s former home, a large Victorian designed by her husband. The park consists of four acres of land surrounding the library that features mature shade trees, WWI memorials, a gazebo, playground equipment and a skate plaza,” said Library Director Ellen Goodman, adding that the park is also home to the borough’s Summer Concert Series and a farmers’ market.

The location helps make the library a great focal point for the community. 

“Bayne Library is a cornerstone for Bellevue,” Goodman added. “It is a place for the community to meet, share and learn together.”

Technology, along with the Internet, has also changed the face of libraries.

“In the last few years, eBooks have become more popular. Each year, eBook circulation is the fastest growing segment of our circulation,” said Illis. “I am amazed by the number of people that don’t know that you can check out books, magazines and music—all electronically—through the library.”

Technology has also created the opportunity to serve the community in new ways. “Because technology is changing so fast, librarians play an important role to the older members of the community. People buy dad or grandma an iPad or Kindle, not thinking that they have no idea how to work one. We provide tons of technical assistance to help get them up and running,” Illis said.

Libraries also lend out more than books.

“Northland has started circulating what we call ‘non-traditional’ items. We lend out WiFi hotspots, board games, adventure backpacks (in partnership with North Park), take-home science kits, American Girl dolls, iPads, and soon, virtual reality headsets,” Balestreire said.

And yes, they still have books—the good, old-fashioned kind that you pick up and turn the pages. In fact, Northland has a program that helps patrons identify books that they may be interested in reading next.

“The Book Match program allows you to submit the last three books that you read, and one of our librarians will suggest your next read,” Balestreire said.

All four see the future of libraries expanding, which is exciting.

“Although libraries will always celebrate the culture of reading, we also provide programs and services that aren’t found elsewhere in our communities. We invite children to play, families to meet, adults to embrace lifelong learning, and senior citizens to engage; we do everything from story times to computer tutoring to knitting groups to conversation salons,” said Goodman. 

“We see it as an opportunity to continue to be an evolving learning space,” added Balestreire. “As we continue to partner with other community groups, we will be able to expand the services that we offer to the public.”