The Reinvention of the Library

 In Education

Dare County libraryLet’s start by dispelling the notion that public libraries are about dusty books and shushing, cardigan-clad librarians.  Fact is, the library has boldly embraced innovations in this technology-obsessed, dynamic digital age.

“The library continues to remain a relevant source for information, offering all the traditional services while providing a full array of 21st Century resources,” said East Albemarle Regional Library (EARL) System Director Johnathon Wark.

The EARL system is comprised of the eight libraries in Camden, Currituck, Dare, and Pasquotank counties. Wark is the librarian at the Kill Devil Hills, Hatteras, and Manteo branches.

There are 250,000 items – books and magazines in various formats, reference material, DVDs, online databases, etc. – shared amongst the eight libraries. A courier service accommodates the exchange of materials between the libraries and items can be returned to any of the eight branches. All that’s required to tap into this treasure trove of resources is a library card. Don’t have a card? Register for one at your local library. It’s free! Students can create a library account online to access digital resources only.

Now, before we get into the gee-whiz high-tech stuff, let’s pause to pay homage to a familiar, but decidedly low-tech, item once found in every library across the land. The venerable card catalog. Long-time patrons likely remember the cabinet with all the drawers containing all the cards that accounted for the who, what, when, and where for all material within the library. Alas, it was a victim of automation. RIP card catalog.

library reinvention

It was a tedious task digitizing all those cards and bar-coding all those books but well worth the effort as it resulted in an online catalog and fully automated circulation system for EARL. The catalog can be accessed from any device with Internet connection. Search by author, title, subject, etc., and find what you’re looking for faster than a middle schooler can turn the page in a Lemony Snicket novel. Visit Click the “home” tab to access the four county sites and lists of resources.

Check-out at the library is streamlined. When selections have been narrowed to a teetering stack, proceed to the desk where bar codes are scanned, and items and due dates are printed on a “receipt.” A friendly email reminder will be sent two days before books are due. Set up an account to reserve or renew books online.

Dare County libraryWelcome to the Cloud Library, where a collection of electronic books for preschoolers through adults can be found. Download eBooks by installing the required app or software on a tablet, smartphone, or computer. Instructions are provided online, and library staff is available for assistance. Electronic books checked out from the Cloud simply vanish – Pfft! – from your device after 14 days. There are more eBooks for the kiddos in the TumbleBook and NC Kids Digital Libraries.

With the advent of eBooks, a shift in reader preference for digital screen was predicted. That didn’t happen. Wark said that although eBooks were highly anticipated, demand has leveled off over the last three years. One theory for this change is “device fatigue.” After hours spent on a computer or smartphone, people desire a break from electronics.

“Electronic audio books are more in demand than eBooks,” said Wark. The eAudio books can be downloaded on smartphones or Bluetooth in your vehicle for listening on the go.

A word here for those of us who favor “real” books. We’re the ones stalking the stacks, trying to contain our excitement. Reading a “real” book is a sensory experience – the heft and feel of the book in your hands, the texture and scent of the pages, the ease of reading the printed word. Using a favorite bookmark, it’s easy to see how far you’ve come and how far you have yet to go. Thankfully, Wark confirmed that the “real” book collection is not going away.

The library provides free Wi-Fi and has several personal computers with Internet connection and Microsoft Office software programs. This is a welcome service for anyone without access to a computer. Among other things, patrons can use the computers for job searches and resume writing (utilizing Cypress Resume tool) as many companies now require job applications be completed online.

Appointments may be made with trained library staff for one-on-one assistance with computers and electronic devices. There are also computers for the wee ones featuring educational programs and animated books.

library reinvention

NC Live is an electronic database that provides digital content and services. Access it with the 14 digits on your library card. Included are eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, newspapers, genealogy research, academic and career test preparation, homework help, and more. Highlights include a Homegrown eBook Collection featuring North Carolina writers. The Mango Language Program offers the opportunity to learn more than 70 world languages. Films on demand feature award-winning documentaries on topics from deforestation to saving songbirds and thousands of instructional videos on subjects from cookies to surfing.

library reinventionPursuit of knowledge has never been easier. Tying into their mission of expanding minds and enriching lives, Dare County libraries offers Universal Class. Keep your mind active with more than 500 free instructor-led courses on subjects such as Entrepreneurship, Writing Skills, Alternative Medicine, and Yoga. With six months to complete the course, you may participate at your own pace and complete assignments any time.

Want to know who you really are and where you come from? Begin a search on Access is free but can only be used at the library. And check out the Digital Heritage Collection, historical local newspapers that document life on the Outer Banks all the way back to 1935. The June 6, 1962 addition of The Coastland Times includes an advertisement for Chief Wanchese Seafood, a fish market in Nags Head, featuring backfin crabmeat for $1.62 a pound!

What technology is on Wark’s wish list? “Wireless printing capability. More bandwidth – for speedier connections.” A 3-D printer? “Maybe.”

As Wark notes, traditional library services remain, not having gone the way of the card catalog. There are things technology cannot replace, like reading programs for young children. The warmth of a human voice, the camaraderie of being with others and making new friends. Such an activity promotes a lifelong love of reading and teaches skills such as listening and sharing in a group setting.

There are still photocopy and fax machine services (for a small fee), a meeting room for non-profit groups, and delivery of books to the homebound. And library staff is as professional and courteous as ever, responding to the needs of the community, providing a service that goes beyond book lending. 

Beautiful beaches and awesome libraries. Aren’t we lucky? ♦

Kimberly loves to read books, loves to talk about books, hopes to write a book, and is a frequent visitor to the library.

library for kids

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