As technology continues to change the way we exchange ideas and information, old institutions are being forced to rethink the services they choose to provide. This is exactly what the Westerly Library and Wilcox Park, two entities that comprise the non-profit Memorial and Library Association of Westerly and are celebrating their 125th anniversary this year, have learned to do.
As traditional print books and news become less popular modes of accessing information, the library has changed its approach to providing services to the public while remaining true to its roots. “Libraries are using technology as just another resource to get information to people,” says executive director Brigitte Hopkins. “We want to preserve our history, but at the same time, we also want to provide our community with what their interests and needs are now.”
The newly renovated computer lab and makerspace are examples of how libraries can cater to the changing needs of the public. Just as printed books were not always accessible commodities, certain forms of technology are simply unaffordable. The makerspace’s amenities include a sewing machine, a 3-D printer, video and music recording hardware and software and media conversion equipment, all available to everyone from coding and robotics clubs to locals in need of mockup fasteners. “We are kind of building it as we discover what our community needs are,” says Brigitte.
Thanks to a recent grant from the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services and the Rhode Island Office of Innovation, the Westerly Library will be able to extend its technology services to artists through the use of products like iPad Pros and Apple TV. As Brigitte explains, the purpose of the grant is “to bring the arts to our community members.” Programs including animation classes and knitting and crochet groups adhere to the library’s “overall theme,” she says: “that anyone can be an artist.”
The time is ripe for the library to make big, innovative changes to its offerings: “We only have a 125th anniversary once,” Brigitte points out. So far, the year is shaping up to be a memorable one.