Exciting new chapter: Libraries adapt to modern needs

Tracey Wehking - Director of Library Services [Photo: Kaila Jones]

In many ways, the libraries of yesterday are a thing of the past. While books still line the shelves, librarians have had to make way for new tools and resources to attract 21st century readers. Gone are the wooden card catalogs; long ago replaced by computers. And the admonition to whisper has given way to the encouragement of boisterous learning activities.

The Indian River County Library System was founded on the premise of providing a place for education, entertainment and, of course, the borrowing of books in hopes of improving literacy and sharing information. The public library, available to all members of the community, was established as a gateway to knowledge, providing resources and services to encourage lifelong learning.

While all still true, today’s public libraries offer a vastly different catalog of resources and experiences. Benjamin Franklin, who is credited as the founder of the lending library system – the model upon which most library systems are based – would undoubtedly approve of the adaptations that address society’s current needs.

To keep up with changing lifestyles, libraries are continually evolving and now offer considerably more than just the tomes of past literary geniuses. They now also provide digital books, computer access, printing services and technical support for those needing a little extra help. In addition to being able to help patrons find books through the famed Dewey Decimal System, today’s librarians must be tech-savvy, able to assist patrons with downloads and the use of digital materials on e-readers and other handheld devices.

“We’re here for whatever the community needs,” says Tracey Wehking, who joined the IRC Library System as director of library services in January.

A former State of Florida prosecutor, when Wehking moved to the east coast with her husband, she decided to turn the page on her law career and devote herself to something she had been passionate about since childhood – books, books, books and more books.

“We’re one of the few departments that are here solely to serve the public. We’re here to provide the public with entertainment and cultural and learning resources that they might not be able to get elsewhere. And it’s for everybody, whether you’re rich, poor, have a home or don’t have one. We’re here for the whole community,” says Wehking.

She adds that libraries are moving away from the traditional “books only” mentality and toward one that also provides services, programming and a community gathering space.

“The library has become more of a place for people to come and be – as opposed to just come in, grab a book and leave,” Wehking explains.

Today, seniors can participate in such programs as Paint and Sip, Sit and Stitch and Tech Expos – think a petting zoo of technology. To draw in young adults and teens, they’ve hosted an Escape Room event, virtual reality experiences and 3-D printing workshops, in addition to the regular summer programs.

“We want to close the gap between the teen years and the early 30s when people tend to be too busy to visit the library,” Wehking says.

The children’s department has always been at the heart of the library’s mission.

“It’s important to get kids hooked when they’re young. Then, going forward, they are going to have fond memories of going to the library, picking out books and getting to bring them home. It’s one thing that I remember doing as a kid,” shares Wehking.

“I was fortunate to come in and have people who have such great knowledge of the community and the library system,” says Wehking, who inherited an experienced staff who are passionate about what they do. “My part in coming in here was to help update things and bring in my experience.”

With the recent opening of the Marian Fell Library in Fellsmere, the county now has five libraries: Main, North County, the Brackett at the Indian River State College Mueller campus, and one at the Gifford Youth Achievement Center. Wehking hopes to expand services to the South County area by placing a vending library at the Intergenerational Center where patrons can pick up books they have reserved online.

And then there’s the hoopla about a new popular service. Hoopla is a web and mobile library media streaming platform that library patrons can use to access audiobooks, comics, eBooks, movies, music and TV.

“It’s a way to add more services that people can access in current ways while still keeping our traditional print materials readily available,” notes Wehking.

A new Book in a Bag program is another way to meet community demands by giving book clubs access to more than 50 popular fiction and nonfiction titles. Patrons can access a book selection from the library’s website, and 10 copies of the book will be delivered to their home library in a bag along with a discussion guide.

“This is a service that people asked us for. There are a lot of book clubs in town, and now they can get all the books at one time and hold onto them for six weeks,” says Wehking.

Another popular addition is the Playaway Launchpad, wherein tablets are preloaded with learning games, videos and books. They have become so well received by children that the library has added adult versions to the mix, equipped with such brain-boosting games as Sudoku, crossword puzzles and hidden picture games to help adults keep their brains functioning at peak performance.

Mobile printing is another popular option available to the public. You simply email the library what you wish to have printed, and then pop in to pick it up. This has been a big help to seasonal residents who travel with smartphones and iPads, but who might not bring printers with them when they visit.

And for those voracious readers who prefer stopping by to pick up a book, Wehking says they are offering a One Week Wonder program as a way to get books to people more quickly. A selection of books, available on a first-come, first-served basis, can be borrowed and returned within a week as opposed to the normal four-week checkout.

“If you haven’t been into the library in a while, come in and see what we have,” offers Wehking. “There’s so much available. We have something for everybody, from age zero to 100, and there’s something going on all the time.”

For more information, visit irclibrary.org.

Photos by: Kaila Jones
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