Released: December 12, 2013

Libraries reinvent themselves for the 21st century

A Pew Internet and American Life Project study this year found that 91 percent of Americans 16 years or older say public libraries are important to their communities. Yet just 22 percent say they know most of the services their libraries offer now, and 31 percent said they know little or nothing about such offerings.

Libraries are abuzz with services that go beyond traditional fare to offer more active programming for patrons. The title of a recent talk at the Wisconsin Library Association sums up the new philosophy in programming: “From Repository to Experience: Library Becomes a Verb.”

New initiatives include Glenview’s drive-up window for customers’ pick-up orders; Oak Park, Skokie and Arlington public libraries’ off-site book discussions; and Arlington’s tech “petting zoo,” which allows patrons to test various models of computer tablets.

Chicago Public Library recently rolled out several new services. All of its 80 branches offer Teacher in the Library, an after-school program to aid students with homework. In the summer, Chicago instituted the Summer Learning Challenge to counteract students’ usual “summer slide” after school lets out: 71,000 students read a reported 2.1 million books.

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