By Nelson Bradshaw
The Daily Star
---- — The local libraries within the Four County Library System still make information available to their patrons in the traditional way — books. They are also storehouses of local history: old photos, newspapers, genealogy records, diaries and letters.
But, in recent years, electronic media have been introduced into libraries, broadening the powers of the system to educate, research and entertain through DVDs, audio books, ebooks and public-use computers. Neither does the atmosphere in the new library pay homage to the old. The new library does not hush people for speaking above a whisper. There is more conversation, entertainment and community space. Libraries have become social hubs of clubs, classes, lectures and special programming, much of it for children.
Marie Bruni, director of the Huntington Library in Oneonta, said she is proud of Huntington’s collection of scrapbooks, photography and train pictures.
“We have a very large collection of railroad photographs,” Bruni said.
But Bruni noted that her patrons rely on the library for computer and Internet access, as well as instructions in the use of the new technology.
Rodger Oesterle, director of the Stamford Village Library, said his facility offers just about everything possible, including a knitting club and a “Great Books” discussion group. Among its historical holdings are a set of paintings of schoolhouses by Lamont Warner.
Stamford’s historical collection can be researched in person; some items, mostly photographs, are available through the website New York State Digital Collections.
As far as modernization goes, though, Oesterle said it “has been very slow getting off the ground. ... We’re continuing to upgrade our abilities to work with patrons on accessing some of these ebooks, because there are a whole lot of different formats and devices involved.”
The library’s collection of ebooks can be downloaded to a variety of e-readers.
The Cannon Free Library in Delhi, with Stacey Tromblee as director, offers much more than traditional books. In addition to DVDs, audio books and ebooks, the library hosts Lego tournaments, clubs and classes. Tromblee said her library’s progress into the new electronic age has been “very satisfactory.”
Patrons of the Deposit Free Library, and other libraries in the Four County Library System, can access ebooks and audio books through a subscription service called the “Download Zone.”
“Separate from that, we also have something called the Research Center that has online databases,” director Becky Hochuli said.
Staying abreast of changing technologies doesn’t come cheap.
“It’s a challenge for the smaller libraries to be able to offer the kind of technology people are looking for,” Hochuli said. “But, we do have these services available through the (Four County Library System).”
By paying a fee to the network of libraries that serves Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Otsego counties, Hochuli’s library can give its patrons access to a greater range of online services through 4CLS.
In Cooperstown, library director Dave Kent said the collection includes “ebooks, CDs, audio books and a little bit of local history.”
A group of supporters, the Friends of the Library, offers programs for children and adults, in addition to the library’s story hour and summer reading programs for kids.
While the Cooperstown library doesn’t house its own collection of local art and artifacts, it is situated next door to an art gallery. The library has local biographies, mixed in with other biographies, but no genealogy or microfilm or family histories.
Andes Library Director Barbara Mellon said she sees the trend of high-tech libraries as a tool to bring people together.
“I think it’s heading toward a kind of community centered thing,” she said. “Certainly, it has been bringing in a particular part of the population. People don’t just pass through. We give them a community focus. We have computers. We have to keep up with the future.”
In the Franklin Free Library, Director Linda Burkhart is looking out for the past, while also preparing for her library’s future. She carries a lot of history, genealogy records, war diaries, preserved newspapers, letters and photographs and more on library shelves. Franklin has a newspaper collection going back to before the Civil War. There are 200 scrapbooks containing historic materials. The library has no video collection, but there are CDs.
“I have hundreds of books on CD,” noted Burkhart.
Lovers of books need not fear that they will disappear from library shelves. These local librarians seem to agree that they are here to stay. But the new stuff might be worth keeping, too.