April 17, 2024

Beyond Books

Welcome to the ever-evolving libraries of the future
By Brighid Driscoll | Feb. 24, 2024

When was the last time you visited your local library?

For many of us, it’s been since childhood, or at least since our kiddos were little. Even if we have active library cards, it’s all too easy to place a hold on a book online, pick it up, drop it back off, and never once go exploring among the stacks.

And yet, libraries are a portal to another world, just as they were when we were young. And now, the life-changing magic of these community resources goes far beyond books.

The Library of Things

We all know you can use a computer for free at your local library. But did you know you could check out a guitar? A laptop? A sewing machine? A telescope? Board games and yard games? Light therapy lamps?

That’s the magic of the Library of Things.

“I read a statistic that something like 36 percent of library users consider themselves non-readers. It makes sense when you think about the movies we have, the music, and so many other things. The library has stuff for you even if you’re not a reader,” says Michele Howard, director of the Traverse Area District Library. Traverse Area District Library (TADL) contains six locations, including the Main Library in Traverse City, East Bay and Kingsley branches, plus Fife Lake, Interlochen, and Peninsula member libraries.

The term “Library of Things” started gaining popularity in the 2010s, but the idea of checking out non-books began long before.

“We’ve had puppets forever,” says Howard. “I think we started checking out puppets in the ’70s.” Art pieces, a Polaroid camera, laser discs, and more were added throughout the 1980s. The collection continued to grow from there, and by the 2010s, the library’s non-book catalog was so diverse and substantial that people wanted to know what to call it.

“Libraries have always tried to help their communities, and here was this little weird niche thing where people are like, ‘Well, I don’t want to own a laser level, but I wish I could check one out for a couple of weeks.’ So that became the Library of Things,” Howard explains.

Today, Howard says TADL offers 344,630 books and things you can check out, and roughly 32 percent of the library’s collection are non-book items.

Reference & Collection Development Librarian Mary Beauchamp of Petoskey District Library led the charge in starting Petoskey’s own Library of Things. “I got the idea from the Traverse Area Library and started with ukuleles. I add to the collection every year with a little bit of our budget.”

Checking out an item from the Library of Things works similarly to checking out a book. Items come in cases and/or with I.D. tags and must be returned after two weeks. Some are in high demand and may have a wait, while others are ready to go.

Howard says that the most popular items at TADL are Wi-Fi Hotspots and the thing that started it all: puppets. More than 1,200 puppets have circulated in the past 12 months.

“We have hundreds of puppets,” adds TADL Marketing & Communications Manager Heather Brady. “They’re not your garden variety puppets either. There are lobsters and anemones and so many others. It’s always fun to see a dragon being pushed up over the checkout desk.”

At Petoskey District Library, Beauchamp says that a patron checked out a metal detector from their Library Of Things and found their wedding ring with it. Other fun items that are regularly checked out include an ice cream maker, a food dehydrator, a boombox with a cassette player and a CD player, snowshoes, and so many games. “It’s nice to try a game out before you buy it,” Beauchamp says.

A MAP to Adventure

A library card not only takes you to new places through reading, but it can also physically take you somewhere new.

The Michigan Activity Pass (MAP) offers free or discounted access to hundreds of cultural and recreational activities across Michigan, including museums, state parks, historic sites, and more. This perk is available to Michigan library cardholders, providing excellent opportunities for adventures throughout the state.

With MAP, you can explore endlessly by checking out passes to the places you want to go. A quick look on the MAP website (miactivitypass.org) offers pass options for everything from the Dennos Museum Center to Point Oneida Heritage Center to the Platte River State Fish Hatchery & Weir for TADL library goers.

Petoskey MAP pass holders receive a 20 percent discount on concert tickets for Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra shows, a 10 percent discount on admission at Raven Hill Discovery Center, and a free visit to the Harbor Springs History Museum.

The list goes on, and each library offers something a little different.

But Wait, There’s More!

If you need to have a meeting, brainstorming session, book club, study group, or just some solo time to get stuff done, library members can reserve different-sized rooms. Most rooms can be rented through their websites free of charge. (Note: Larger rooms accommodating 100 people or more have a fee.)

In fact, even though libraries are often thought of as places of quiet and solitude, plenty of clubs meet at the library, and their event calendars are always full.

“We have yoga for families, mindful storytime, the hobby group from the senior center, a writing group, Tai Chi—so much fun stuff,” says Howard.

Petoskey also has a variety of regular groups using the library’s space. “We have a group called PUP, Petoskey Ukulele Players; they come in once a week and play. Anyone can join,” Beauchamp tells us. “We also have one-on-one tutoring for kids first through third grade. And I’m excited about the Reader’s Theatre we’ve just started. It’s for ages 10 and up. You don't have to have a theater background—it’s just reading, no stage direction. There will be a performance at the end of every month.”

Last but not least, both libraries also provide spaces and tools for arts and crafts, and each offers 3D printing for a small fee. (If you’ve always wanted to recreate your Polly Pocket accessories or need to replace a Monopoly piece, now is the time!)

And readers, that’s just the tip of the library iceberg. With all of the benefits of having a library card, why not use all these features? For this writer, hesitation spawned from a nearly four-year-old late fee, but Howard assured us this is a smaller hurdle than one might think.

“Just come in and see us,” she says. “If you lost the book, it’s just a replacement cost, and you can make payments. People sometimes think they’ll come in and owe so much, but it’s usually not a lot because only a few things have fees anymore. We want people to feel like they can always return to the library.”



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