Saturday, April 12th, 2014
By William Kincaid
More than just books
Libraries branching out to draw in larger audiences
  Libraries today are more than mere book depositories.
For those who still think of them exclusively as stodgy places of quietude and study - the domain of bookworms and eggheads - a visit to one of the many area branches may be in order. All locations are celebrating National Library Week starting Monday.
"We pride ourselves on being a community center. Libraries are not just books anymore," said Susan Pittman, director of the St. Marys Community Public Library. "We provide meeting rooms for the public. We provide programs for the public."
From e-books to gardening expos; coin evaluations; mineral tours; movie, music and video game collections; Wi-Fi access points; computers; printing and fax machines; book clubs; craft circles; wide-ranging presentations, seminars and authors; and children activities; libraries in Mercer and Auglaize counties are responding to the needs of their patrons.
"We always have activities here," Pittman said. "I think we celebrate every week. I realize that National Library Week is a special week, but we celebrate with our families every week or as often as we can, and we encourage people to come to our programs."
Registrations for the proper English tea party held a few months ago were so overwhelming that a second date was scheduled, Pittman said.
On Wednesday afternoon at the St. Marys library, a group of children met for the monthly Lego Club, now in its second year, to assemble creations. The library and its volunteer arm, the Friends of the Library, bought several sets of Legos and Lego books for young visitors.
"They come and they start fresh ever month, and then when they complete their item, I have a little display case beside my office (I put them in)," youth services coordinator Paula Drummond said. "They're just very creative. It amazes me."
Drummond also oversees the popular Asian Pop Culture Club, in which high schoolers watch Korean game shows and boy bands and Chinese dramas.
At the Mercer County District Public Library in Celina, a new teen section is just about finished. Over a checkered-tiled floor sits green and black cafe-style chairs and desks and a bar with computers where kids can surf the Net or do their homework. A big screen TV is fastened on a neon-green wall surrounded by shelves of young adults books, movies and Nintendo Wii video games.
The teen space, according to assistant library director Elizabeth Muether, is a space for teens to congregate and feel comfortable away from the adults using the main section of the library.
"They prefer being over here," she said. "Those computers, as soon as school's out until we close, they're pretty much full."
"They have a space to meet," library IT specialist Eric Lochtefeld said about the teen space. "They were sitting on little kid-chairs before."
Cognizant that many in the county can't afford computers or Internet service, the library increased its computers to almost 20 and installed Wi-Fi access throughout the building.
It also added a drive-thru book return, which was a hit.
"We just pay attention to the community," she said. "We listen to the community. We want to be the center of the community, a community hub. Our library is going to be different than a library in a different city."
The library offered Money Smart Week this week, with seminars on turning trash into treasure, selling items on Facebook and investing. Children had the opportunity this morning to paint piggy banks to encourage them to begin saving.
Pittman, Muether and Carol Evers, director of the Coldwater Public Library, said the popularity of e-books is increasing. E-books can be downloaded online from The Ohio Digital Library accessed via each library's website.
The books are free to download and can be checked out for 21 days, after which they disappear from the user's device. Like traditional books, only one copy of each e-book purchased by libraries can be checked out at a time.
"When we started the e-book project ... I knew there would be interest," Evers said. "The younger generation is very technology-invested, and they have the iPads and the iPhones."
E-books are commonly read by high schoolers and adults, she said.
"The young people who travel a lot, it's so handy because they download four or five books onto their (device)," Evers said. "They can slip it into their purse and they have five books on there they can read whenever they want to."
A librarian offers clinics on how to use e-books on Thursdays from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Coldwater library.
At St. Marys, 7,307 requests for e-books were made in 2013. Checkouts of e-books at the Celina library range from 900 to 1,000 a month and escalated to 1,300 in March, Muether said.
"We now have e-books that we circulate," Pittman said. "We belong to a consortium which I think really helps us because we can't afford every title. By sharing with the other libraries in the consortium it assists us in providing the items our patrons need."
E-books are winning over readers, but traditional books aren't going away anytime soon. Local libraries continue to maintain vast collections.
"I think people still really come here for the books, for the materials that we have," Drummond said.

Ohio public library facts:
According to the Ohio Library Council,
• There are 251 public library systems in Ohio.
• More than 78 percent of Ohioans are registered borrowers at least one public library.
• In 2013, Ohioans checked out more than 184 million items from public libraries.
• Ohio public libraries have approximately 12,000 public access computers available free of charge for residents.
• In 2013, more than four million children attended children's programs at public libraries.

go online @:
http://www.mercer.lib.oh.us/
http://www.stmarys.lib.oh.us/
http://www.coldwaterpubliclibrary.org/
Additional online stories for this date
Print edition only stories for this date
• Fired cop fighting to get job back
• Suspect pleads guilty to killing St. Marys man 32 years ago
• Homan's relief work leads Celina to win
• Muhlenkamp shuts down Flyers
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