Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Who Owns this Library?

By Anita

“Who owns this library?”

The question, from a teenage boy, is asked in a serious tone. I stop and consider his meaning. I know he’s not asking me who actually owns the metal structure our library is housed in. His question, I think, is a little more complicated. The answer, though, is simple.

“You do,” I tell him. “You and your friends. The library belongs to the community.”

For a few minutes, I think he’s forgotten about me. He fiddles with some gadget – an MP3 player or a cell phone. It’s game night and this boy and his friends have stopped in the library to play RockBand on the Wii.

“So when are you having Karaoke again?” he finally asks without looking up from the device in his hand. Slowly, it dawns on me that this is his indirect way of asking for a library program, of exercising ownership of his community library.

I promise him we’ll hold Karaoke again soon and make a mental note to put the event on the library’s schedule.

This notion of ownership stems from the basic role of public-funded libraries, which are charged with providing services and programs that meet the unique needs of the community. As owners of the library, community members have certain rights and responsibilities.

People who use the library recognize their right to services such as interlibrary loan and collection development. They ask staff to consider buying certain books, DVDs or magazines. They suggest programs such as computer workshops or author visits. They use the library often and understand that their input is needed to guide services.

For those who don’t use the library – some haven’t set foot in a library since high school – there is limited understanding of library ownership. Many don’t even know that they’re welcome to use nearly all library services and attend all programs regardless of library membership. Membership is only needed to borrow books, movies and audio-visual materials.

That’s it. No membership is needed to use the public-access computers or the Internet. Use of meeting or study space to read, write or socialize is open to the public. Each of the four public libraries in the county provides current newspapers and magazines for public use. And, all are open to suggestions from even the most infrequent library user.

With these many privileges come a few responsibilities. Chief among these is the responsibility to help out when it is possible. Again, some folks get this. They volunteer by teaching a workshop or leading a book discussion group. They participate as trustees, Friends group members or routine volunteers. They bring solutions to community problems.

And some people just bring problems – in the form of requests or complaints. But that’s OK. When you own something, you’re entitled to make requests…and offer a few complaints.

Friday, October 1, 2010

This Fall, Cozy Up to a Library Program

By Anita

A library volunteer recently shared with me the story of an exchange she had with a surprised friend. Upon entering the Ford City library on a busy afternoon, her friend looked around with a perplexed expression. The library was humming with small social groups, chatting, knitting and laughing. Patrons helped themselves to a carafe of coffee in the front of the library. No one whispered.

Taken aback, her friend asked, “What is this?”

“It’s a place to have fun,” said the volunteer with a smile.

This sort of exchange has become commonplace in libraries across the nation. Public libraries have been evolving from centers of information dissemination to fully-realized community centers. The library as a neighborhood activity and social hub is a growing trend.

With the recent economic downturn, communities are re-discovering the high value and low cost of public libraries, fueling the transformation to community-center.

Citizens come together at local libraries to share ideas, learn new skills, partake in entertainment and hold civic group meetings. In one week in October, the following community activities will be available at Armstrong County libraries:

• Friends group book & baked sale

• Two book discussion groups

• Preschool Story Hour to promote kindergarten readiness and foster literacy and social skills

• Crochet Club

• Knotty Knitters Group

• Preschool musical play hour

• A walk in the park with a master gardener, identifying trees

• Children’s money literacy class

Librarians search for fresh and creative ways to meet community needs, while they maintain old standbys in programming. Two staples of library service can always be found locally: story hours and book discussions.

Story hour, for pre-school and early elementary students, is found at each of the state-aided libraries in the county at intervals throughout the year. Library-sponsored sessions are provided at Kittanning, Worthington and Apollo libraries. A community group convenes weekly at Ford City library for Toddler Time. These programs are free and open to the public.

Book discussion groups, in various forms meet at most local libraries. These groups are often facilitated by the library, but groups can – and sometimes are – coordinated by community members with no formal relationship to the library. Local librarians can often locate extra copies of books for discussion group members – defraying costs and promoting convenience.

To inquire about meeting space availability, citizens should call the community library. At Ford City Library membership is not required to reserve library space or attend library programs.

Every day, library programs, community gatherings and spontaneous social get-togethers occur at local libraries. For information about library programs,

Monday, September 13, 2010

Computer Headaches Cured at the Library (sometimes)

By Anita

Late one chilly evening, a library patron sat perched over his laptop. The director didn’t notice him as she turned out the lights and locked the front door. Jarred by the sudden appearance of a disembodied head in the night, the director stopped short. Face lit by the computer screen glow, the patron looked spectral in the pitch black. In an instant, the director recognized him.

“Aren’t you cold,” she asked.

Huddled over his laptop, the young man said he was beginning to get chilled. He was, after all, sitting at a cement table in the front courtyard of the library. It was 9 p.m.

Taking advantage of the free WiFi, the patron had lost track of time outside his neighborhood library. He soon folded up his laptop and headed down the street to his Ford City home.

WiFi is available at Ford City Library. It’s one of many free or inexpensive technology services public libraries make available to the public.

Public computer use, with many software applications and Internet capability is free as well. Library membership isn’t generally required to use public-access computers, but you will be asked to read and follow the rules and policies.

As with the average citizen, libraries find technology to be a timesaver. When someone needs a government form – the FAFSA for student aid or a Schedule B for tax purposes, the ease of downloading from the Internet can’t be beat. It’s a space saver, too. No more need for that 10-pound tome listing US zip codes. It’s all online – zip codes, area codes, legislators’ contact information. You name it, it’s there.

When it works right, and you know what you’re doing, technology is great. But, we all know there is a down side. So many things can go wrong. And, some days it feels like you’re the victim of an unrelenting technology conspiracy. Everything breaks or catches a virus or runs out of ink. Frustrated and in a pinch, you find yourself asking “what now?”

Public libraries, though challenged by technology, are generally a good place to turn. For a small fee, printing, copying and faxing can be done at the library. Flash drive access is typically available and some computers may accommodate CDs. At Ford City Library, we offer free scanning privileges.

While library staff members have varying levels of technical skills, patrons who are challenged by technology can generally find help at the library. For instruction, it may be necessary to schedule an appointment or register for a computer workshop. But, if you aren’t in a hurry and you visit during nonpeak hours, volunteers and staff can often assist in Web searches or setting up and using e-mail accounts.

Currently, the Ford City Public Library is matching teen tutors with adults eager to learn basic computer skills. Call the library for details or to sign up.

At a time when many Americans find themselves strapped for cash, the library’s free Internet access and cheap technical services are just the ticket.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tea is the Topic

Library Books & Event to Appeal to Tea Lovers
By Anita Bowser

REVIEW: Tea Chings, The Tea and Herb Companion by Ron Rubin and Stuart Avery Gold; copyright 2002

Polyphenols, a component of green tea, are thought to contribute to fat burning. In a study of obese middle-aged women, a group of women taking green tea supplements over a two-week period lost twice as much weight as a control group, report Ron Rubin and Stuart Avery Gold in their book, Tea Chings. After a month, the tea-drinking group had lost three times as much weight as those taking placebos.

Tea, we’ve been told for years, may have a myriad of health benefits, from antiviral and antibacterial properties to antioxidants. There is some support for tea enthusiasts who have long declared the drink’s ability to protect against cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis, say Rubin and Gold.

A quick read, the book is laced with humor and chock full of trivia. Myths are dispelled, as with the origin of tea drinking. Tradition tells of an accidental discovery of tea by the Chinese emperor Shen Nong in 2737 B.C. The truth, according to Tea Chings, is archaeologists report humans boiling water and eating tea leaves in Southeast Asia more than 500,000 years ago.

The authors, obvious tea lovers, provide a practical guide for brewing and selecting tea ware. There are even instructions for reading tea leaves. The book is rounded out by several chapters on herbs and their use with tea. This is one of several books on tea available at the library.

Whether you know black tea from Oolong, Darjeeling from Ceylon, if you enjoy a cup of tea and light conversation you won't want to miss Tea & Topics. Simply bring a sample of your favorite tea or a few nibbles – scones or cookies are perfect – and join the fun.

Tea & Topics
Where: Ford City Public Library
When: Monday, March 22 – 6:30 p.m.
What to bring: A few samples of your favorite tea or a small dish of finger food. Don’t go to too much trouble. You’ll find no pretentious palates here, just tea lovers.

In the stacks:

  • Tea Chings, The Tea and Herb Companion, by Ron Rubin and Stuart Avery Gold; Illustrated; 195 pages; Copyright 2002 by Ron Rubin and Stuart Avery Gold. Look for 641.4 Rub
  • The Tea Companion, A Connoisseur’s Guide, by Jane Pettigrew; Illustrated; 192 pages; Copyright 1997 by Quintet Publishing Limited. This book is a guide to all things tea. It offers advice on how to buy, store and make quality tea. Look for 641.3 Pet
  • The Afternoon Tea by Lesley Mackley; Illustrated; 120 pages; Copyright 1992 by Salamander Books Ltd. You’ll find a brief guide to the custom of afternoon tea and pages of recipes. Look for 641.3 Mac
  • Taking Tea with Alice, Looking-Glass Tea Parties and Fanciful Victorian Teas, by Dawn Hylton Gottlieb & Diane Sedo; Illustrated; 75 pages; Copyright 1997 by Dawn Hylton Gottlieb and Diane Sedo. This book offers a whimsical look at Victorian teas, menus and plans for 6 fun theme parties. Look for 641.53 Got
  • Tea Gardens, Places to Make and Take Tea, by Ann Lovejoy; Illustrated; 114 pages; Copyright 1998 by Ann Lovejoy. Featuring English, Japanese, herbal and container tea gardens, this volume offers beautiful photos and recipes to inspire tea and plant lovers alike. Look for 635.9 Lov