Library changes in store

Published 8:55 pm Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Benjamin Franklin probably gets a bit more credit than he deserves for the rise of public libraries in America. To be sure, the “subscription library” he incorporated in 1742 as the Library Company of Philadelphia was one of the precursors to the nation’s modern-day public libraries. But Franklin probably never would have imagined free public libraries as we know them today.

Even Andrew Carnegie, the American industrialist who in the early part of the 20th century donated $50 million to erect 2,500 libraries across the United States in an effort to give people of every social station access to books, would be surprised at the sorts of things that take place in those libraries today.

And so, the evolution of the public library continues, and patrons in Suffolk can see it happening right before their eyes.

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Through a couple of new programs, the library is increasingly turning its focus outward to get more people in the community involved. Earlier this year, Suffolk Public Library was announced as one of 10 library systems nationwide to participate in the Libraries Transforming Communities program this year. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and organized through the American Library Association, the program seeks to help libraries create stronger relationships with the communities they serve and become agents of positive community change.

As part of the program, Suffolk Public Library has been holding “community conversations” at various spots around town. The idea is to get a handle on what the 21st century city of Suffolk expects and desires from its public library.

Another initiative that has helped make the Suffolk library system more accessible is the Pop-Up Library that has appeared at public events like National Night Out and Taste of Suffolk and in public spaces like the farmer’s market, the YMCA and Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority neighborhoods. At the Pop-Up Library, folks can check out selected materials, receive library cards, do children’s crafts and participate in story time.

Much has changed about libraries across the centuries, and much more will change as libraries learn to accommodate new technologies. It’s good to know the folks in charge of Suffolk’s public libraries are working to understand how best to serve their community in the face of those changes.