A vibrant, community space in digital times

Warwick Beacon ·

In an era where digital media is growing increasingly popular, the Warwick Public Library has found that adding the purpose of being a vibrant, community space has proved to be beneficial.

According to Deputy Director Jana Stevenson, there were 387,315 visits during fiscal year 2018 and circulation grew by 2 percent primarily due to the library’s digital collection. Approximately 42 percent of the city’s population is a member of the library, with 30,897 residents owning a library card. The city surpasses the state average of 38 percent.

“People still use the library, and I think nationally, the library is seen as a community space, not so much where you get your books,” Stevenson said.

To create the feel of a community space, the library has extended the resources and programs it offers members. In the last few years, they acquired a virtual reality set and created the idea studio, which is a place where those who work from home can spread-out and use the free Wi-Fi.

In the children’s department, iPad’s, a play boat, play castle, puzzles, activity wall and Bergeron board games await families. Story times are offered on a consistent basis, as well as Read to Maggie, a therapy dog program in which children can come and read to Maggie the Beagle.

“People will sit here and bring lunch and stay for hours, not just quick ins and outs,” children’s librarian Pam Miech said. “People come here to meet with their friends, meet with their kids’ friends.”

Christine Kayal, another children’s librarian, expressed that there is no replacement for the physical aspect of a children’s book. In addition, all of the resources in the children’s section are free to use, and many families cannot afford to buy everything they would like to expose their children to.

“The kids need that actual turning of the page, looking at the words, looking at the illustration and interacting with it,” Kayal said. “[Families] are able to come here and have exposure to a lot of different things that they may not be familiar with.”

The library also offers a wide variety of programs throughout the year, many of which do not relate to reading. Wil Gregerson, the community services librarian, looks for events that will allow the community to come together. These events can include presentations by knowledgeable speakers, concerts, film screenings, yoga, writing exercises and more.

“There’s 80,000 people in Warwick, and I want to make sure that I’m offering something that would be of interest to every single person in the city,” Gregerson said. “It might mean that someone would only come to one program a year, because it would just happen to be that one thing that they’re interested in, and nothing else that we do for the rest of the year is really what they want to see or hear about, and that’s fine.”

Gregerson also noted that being in a communal space and enjoying the presence of others is something he believes draws people to the library.

“It allows people to think more deeply, to experience more deeply, to have shared experiences, and that’s a huge value, I think in society,” Gregerson said. “It’s always [a] constructive experience, and you can always find people who like the same topic.”

Stevenson also explained librarians are a great resource as well. Librarians are trained to help members with research. She said that everything and anything is on the Internet, but the librarians are trained to help members locate the correct, factual sources.

“It’s useful to have the library because we know what resources we can trust and we know how to find things that will help people better understand what is real and what isn’t. With the internet, anything and everything is there, but its not all real.”

To get younger members to come to the library, Stevenson said the Warwick Library, Cranston Library, Providence Public Library and Providence Community Library are working on a program to remove fines from anything that is catalogued as juvenile or children’s and has been checked-out and is overdue. Members cannot check-out any item if they owe a fine, and with this program, younger members will be able to start using their library cards again, which will also bring them back through the door. Also, in the future, any item that is checked-out that is catalogued as juvenile or children’s will not have a fine attached. Members will still need to return their checked-out items before they can checkout anything else.

“The problem is that kids, they come in, they check something out and they forget about it or they can’t get a ride to the library,” Stevenson said. “Then they come of age and have all these back fines and can’t use their card. The idea is to clear the fines for any items that are juvenile or teen items so that kids can use their cards.”

The library is also looking into additional programming that works in conjunction with science, technology, arts, engineering and math (STEAM).

“We feel like schools might have a hard time keeping up with the computer science end of education so we’re trying to fill the gap with coding, engineering, those kinds of things,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said the library has also found that they issue a significant amount of library cards to members who use streaming services from their home. According to Stevenson, there were 76,743 items checked out digitally in 2018, which was an 11 percent increase from the previous year. The library owns the rights to many movies that members can stream, as well as a system called Hoopla, which offers audio books, music, movies, podcasts and more.