Not much shushing going on at libraries these days

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Libraries are getting noisier as directors look for new ways to lure technology-savvy patrons to their facilities.

The days of people sitting in silence reading books off the shelves are being replaced by concerts, magic shows and chat sessions at places like the Joplin and Pittsburg, Kan., public libraries. And the new strategies seem to be paying off.

“I suppose it’s not the image we have of libraries of the past,” said Pat Clement, director of the Pittsburg, Kan., library. “But libraries reflect their communities, and communities have changed enormously from how we were in the 1950s. Sometime between then and now, the shushing went out.”

Clement told The Joplin Globe that modern libraries are centers for the community. Hers, for instance, has offered patrons puppetry, chamber music and even a yo-yo expert in recent years.

“The emphasis for many years was on books, but people learn in different ways,” she said. “If you don’t address that, then you miss out on a connection with people.” It’s that connection, she said, that gets people into the library and keeps them coming back.

“If we can hook people, especially kids, into coming in, and if they have a good experience, then they’re going to want to come back,” Clement said. “Churches have figured out that they have to change, and so have we.”

In Joplin, library director Jacque Gage said nontraditional programming has helped the gate count increase by more than 300,000 people since 2005. Among those new visitors was a lifelong Joplin resident who attended a craft-and-chat program there.

“She read about it on a craft-and-chat blog, so she came,” Gage said. “It was the first time she’d ever been in the library, and she was amazed at what we do here.”

The Pittsburg library has seen a sharp jump in use by teen patrons. Clement said there are 1,500 more people with library cards than there were last year.

With more and more people downloading audio and e-books, collections at the Pittsburg library are getting smaller, she said. That has prompted her staff to reconsider how floor space is used.

“But we have to change the way we judge success, and quit putting so much emphasis on circulation,” Clement said. “For so long, it kept going up and up and up. This year, we see a big impact. We had one person in here all the time checking out audio books. Several months ago, she said she’s downloading them all at home, which means she won’t be in as often.”

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