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OUTLOOK 2024: Beyond books: Libraries keep up with technology

Feb. 2—SHARON — The Community Library of the Shenango Valley and its Stey-Nevant branch keep up with technology by keeping it patron-focused.

"The American Library Association really keeps up," said Stephanie Messina, financial officer for CLSV. "Libraries pretty much keep up."

The Sharon and Farrell libraries offer for use computers, tablets and Kindles. The Sharon library offers WiFi 24/7 so patrons can go to the parking lot any time and plug in for free.

"We started that during COVID when schools were closed," Messina said. "We opened in May 2020, and since schools were not open we offered 24/7 parking lot WiFi so if anybody needs it, they can come and do homework or whatever they need to do."

Patrons can also print from their laptops or phones. They can even sit in their car, print something and go into the library and pick it up.

The biggest technology advance for the library comes through an application called "Libby."

After downloading Libby, people with a library card for the Sharon and Farrell libraries can access e-books and audiobooks through a phone, Kindle, tablet or computer through 20 libraries.

Ten books can be borrowed electronically at a time and they will automatically delete after two weeks, eliminating any late-fee charges.

"It's a really cool system because you can have five books on loan and then you can be waiting for two more and then you can put some on reserve, return them early or search for them," Messina said. "We actually have people who never come in here because they use Libby," Messina said. "Then they call us once a year to say their Libby isn't working and it's because they have to renew their library card."

Going hand-in-hand with Libby are the library's gadget workshops.

Patrons can make an appointment, come in and talk to Gabby Lucas, the adult services coordinator, and learn how to use their phone, tablet or laptop. Lucas gives one-on-one instruction.

"We have people who come back over and over again," Messina said. "She does help them."

Lucas said her last gadget workshop was to show a patron how to use GPS.

"Some people don't know where to start," Lucas said. "So we're able to provide that little bit of 'this is how you send a text, this is how you take a call,' and then they can move forward and use their phone."

Someone had an issue with how to link their phone to their car. So they pulled their car up and were assisted with that.

Another program Lucas said is offered at both libraries is the Ancestry.com genealogy-research system.

"People can come in and browse Ancestry and access all the databases for Ancestry for free on our computers or our WiFi if they bring their own laptops," Lucas said. "They can see census records and birth certificates."

Teens are welcome to access these services and the adult programming, but there is a section of the library just for their age group.

Through grants, the library was able to build a STEM lab that can be used any time a librarian is available.

The Sharon library acquired a Nintendo Switch, a Wii system and a Playstation gaming console, along with iPads, a 3D printer, a television to play games and special benches with electrical outlets.

"Whatever they want to build," Messina said. "We have tons of stuff teens can come and do. If they're working on a project, we would let them come in and do something."

Several software platforms are available including an animation studio.

"We're very technology-oriented," Messina said.

If children and teens are looking to use something for a special project or to learn a musical instrument or use cooking utensils, the library has all this stored in the Educational Resource Center on the main floor.

The grand opening of the Educational Resource Center was to be March 17, 2020, the day everything was closed due to the pandemic.

But the center has fared well despite that setback.

The center is for all different age groups — pre-K, elementary, middle school and high school. The categories, each broken down by age, are in different colors and include subjects such as history, geography and science. There are also tons of toys and board games in the section.

"We have microscopes, cake pans, musical instruments, even a pasta maker in the back waiting to be catalogued," Messina said. "All this is available to take home."

Messina said the section has undergone a lot of use.

"Teachers come in and borrow things for their classroom," Messina said. "Grandparents come in at Christmastime and borrow things for their grandkids to do at Christmas."

Lucas said public libraries are like community centers in a lot of ways now and they automatically have to adapt.

"We're very technology-oriented but we still have a lot of people who come in for the books, so both parts are still relevant," Lucas said.

Follow Melissa Klaric on twitter @HeraldKlaric or email her at mklaric@sharonherald.com

Follow Melissa Klaric on twitter @HeraldKlaric or email her at mklaric@sharonherald.com