All public and academic libraries offer the same basic services. Many offer unexpected services.
In some cases, they are the library’s response to unique local needs. In others, one library has seen how it can address a common need, and other libraries may start something similar.
At least some of today’s more recent basic services started out as one library’s experiment.
I reported on 3 unusual and unexpected library services a while ago. Here are 5 more.
The Worcester (Massachusetts) Public Library is handing out free meals. It’s summer. Children who depend on school lunch programs don’t have access to them during the summer.
The Massachusetts state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education administers a federally funded summer food program, but fewer than a fifth of eligible children take part.
Part of the problem is the simple logistics of getting eligible children from where they live to where the food is. The addition of all the city’s library branches brings the total number of sites to 35. Mobile food trucks visit them, along with other sites where it is not possible to prepare meals.
After all, how many libraries have kitchens? At least one.
The Free Library of Philadelphia has installed a kitchen in the Parkway Central Library. It’s not an ordinary staff-room kitchen. It’s the Culinary Literacy Center, which has a two-fold mission.
First, it uses cooking classes to impart literacy skills, and not just reading. Following recipes involves math. Understanding what happens when ingredients are combined and heated in the various recipes involves chemistry. If these subjects seem boring in the classroom, they come alive in the kitchen.
But the Culinary Literacy Center is more than just another library program to supplement what the schools are doing. It offers classes for children, teens, families, and adults. Culinary literacy includes understanding nutrition, health, and prevention of disease.
If the University of South Florida gets its way, its library will begin checking out drones to students and faculty this all. The $1500 remote-controlled vehicles will be free for checkout, just like books.
But something else will be required. Students will have to complete a training program and explain how they intend to use the drone for coursework.
The university’s expanded “Digital Media Commons” intends to take drones from the category of exotic machine to just another research tool. For example, drones could be used for aerial mapping of the university’s energy usage to help pinpoint where to save energy and money.
The library gains, too. After decades of leadership in new technology, libraries still have the reputation of book warehouses. Having drones as a part of its collection, the University of South Florida library will be more visible as a real part of campus.
It may not get off the ground, however. Other schools have already tried and failed to gain FAA approval. Sooner or later, the accumulation of explanations of drones’ research value will persuade the FAA to take university drone programs seriously.
The Toronto Reference Library has found another way to stand the image of library as book warehouse on its ear. It has installed a machine that lets patrons print their own books.
The possibilities are nearly endless. The library has an extensive collection of digital books patrons can print. Or patrons can print their own creations, from memoirs to cookbooks to what novel publishers don’t want.
A few other libraries make a similar printer available for their patrons.
All of these programs encourage and require patrons to visit the library. As America’s population ages, more and more elderly can’t easily leave home. So the Springfield-Greene County Library in Missouri created a program called “Stories for Life” to let the library go to the patrons in retirement communities once a month.
Retirement communities are home to various groups of people: residential members can get out and about, but those needing assisted living, skilled nursing, or memory care cannot. Starting this fall, the program will also be offered at a library branch, where people who do not live in retirement homes can participate.
The library brings a full spectrum of multimedia resources, not only reading materials but also games, props, and other objects that provide stimulation to multiple senses. The interactive nature of the program enables people of various cognitive abilities to participate.
The programs have themes. Some can simply be fun and games. Others involve learning about literature, nature, or local history.