by Nik Beimler, courtesy of Fosters.com
When Cathy Beaudoin started working at the Dover Public Library (NH) in 1975, the building dealt exclusively in books, magazines and other print sources. A few years later, the library acquired its first computer, an Intel 286.
Fast forward nearly 40 years, and Beaudoin is guiding the library through a turbulent technological time by updating how the city department does business, attracts customers and remains a vital part of the community.
“People used to come in and ask us, ‘What’s the state bird of Ohio?’” Beaudoin said. “Nobody needs to come here for that anymore. Instead, they come in and ask, ‘How do I set up a Gmail account?’ or ‘How do I download an audiobook?’”
Beaudoin said she remembers getting calls from bars asking questions like, “How do you spell Afghanistan?” While spelling has likely not improved drastically in the past few decades, technology has, and answers can easily be found by typing words into a phone instead of using it to place a call.
Portsmouth Public Library Director Steve Butzel has similar memories and said libraries have adapted to provide updated services to the community. “We’re transforming what a library means,” he said. “Libraries in general, and Portsmouth Public Library in particular, has really transformed itself from offering materials that people borrow into a community center, an educational center, a cultural center and much more.”
Both Dover and Portsmouth have started offering classes and programs for all ages to learn how to use technology and incorporate it into daily lives. Butzel said a customer came in last week to thank the Portsmouth library staff for teaching her how to use a word processing program.
“She told us that without the computer classes that we offered, she would not have been able to write a book and get it published,” Butzel said. “So libraries are clearly still an absolutely essential piece of communities.” Another popular program in Portsmouth has been its genealogy services. Butzel said many people who have traced their ancestry back to a local resident come in to find out more about their forbears using records at the library.
Beaudoin said the Dover library is launching a “memory lab,” which will teach people how to store family photos and videos online without worrying about losing memories.
Many libraries are incorporating themed days and special events into their calendars and Beaudoin said those have become huge draws for the community. “Libraries knew they would have to change years ago,” she said. “We’ve adapted and evolved with the times as we’ve needed to.”
Last year, for the first time ever, Beaudoin said Dover library card holders checked out more magazines virtually than they did in print. More than 2,000 transactions are made per month by people who never step foot in the Dover library.
Still, despite the Internet boom and the changing methods of running a library, Beaudoin and Butzel say their departments remain vital parts of their cities. In Dover, about 550 people visited the library each day in 2016. Portsmouth’s library recorded a record year in the last fiscal year with more than 350,000 visits.
Beaudoin said the Dover Public Library is working on using a program called Linked Data to make the library’s physical catalogue more visible online. Once the program is set up, when somebody in the Dover area searches for a book online, the library will appear at the top of the page as a location to get a copy of the book.
“We’re constantly thinking ahead and constantly adapting,” Beaudoin said. “We’ll always strive to be a community location, and try to get as many people in here for as many reasons as possible.”