Sphero SPRK+ is an app-enabled robotic ball made by the same company that created the BB-8 droid for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. Members of the Fraser Valley Regional Library can now check one out, free of charge, for a two- or three-week period. (Bryan Rowe/Sphero photo)

COLUMN: Today’s libraries are about more than just books

From ukuleles to little robots and social services, libraries have tons of things to offer

By Frances Thomson, Fraser Valley Regional Library

There are certain things you expect to find in a public library: books, magazines and newspapers. There are also the “non-book” items like DVDs and CDs. However, if you have not been to the library in a while, some things might surprise you.

Did you know that you could borrow a ukulele from the Fraser Valley Regional Library? In the fall of 2016, the library partnered with the Coquitlam Ukulele and Tiny Instrument Enthusiasts (CUTIE) Circle to introduce a collection of Uke ‘n Play kits. Each kit includes a ukulele, a soft case, digital tuner and beginner ukulele book. Music is alive and well in our libraries with our CD collection, as well as online streaming audio and sheet music through Naxos.

Recently, FVRL added Sphero SPRK+ robotic balls to its collection. The robot toy is a clear plastic orb, capable of rolling around and changing colours, that is controlled via smartphone or tablet. Programming the device to perform specific actions through drag and drop coding supports science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Libraries lending “things” is not a new concept. As far back as the early 20th century, many public libraries had framed art available for borrowing. In the 1980s, I worked at a library that had Polaroid cameras for loan.

With the growth of the sharing economy, more libraries are adding non-traditional items to their collections, lending cake pans, blenders, sewing machines, lawn mowers, snowshoes, bird watching kits, croquet sets, and bicycles, among other things.

Children who live in Reading, Mass. may borrow a lemonade stand kit from the local public library, while an iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaning robot is available for adults.

Residents of Anchorage, Ala. who need a polar bear fur or stuffed puffin may borrow such items from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Their mounted snowy owls are popular for Harry Potter parties.

Vancouver Public Library and Toronto Public Library introduced musical instruments for borrowing in 2016. Their collections include drums of various kinds, stringed instruments and keyboards.

Collections are not the only things changing in libraries; services are changing too. The Edmonton Public Library has social workers on staff, providing outreach to the homeless. A library in Arizona has a public health nurse on site. The George Mackie Library provides space for settlement workers from the Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) Society to meet clients for whom the library is a more convenient location than the office.

Thanks to the Delta Food Coalition, the George Mackie Library is one of several distribution points for bread from Monte Cristo Bakery. The bakery approached Deltassist to distribute its weekly bread overages of artisan breads and cakes. Monte Cristo’s generosity has grown so much that the bread is now available at several locations in North Delta. The library is also a drop-off point for excess produce (mainly tomatoes) from greenhouses in Delta.

Library collections and services are constantly changing. Drop in and see for yourself.

Frances Thomson is the community librarian at the George Mackie Library. For more information about books and events at the library, visit fvrl.bc.ca.

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