The Library as Community Center

Mercer County Library System has fantastic digital offerings. We urge patrons to visit our Virtual Branch and see what is available from home. But if you haven’t visited your local branch lately, actually walked in and spent time in your library, you may not realize how much libraries have changed.

Libraries are no longer just repositories for books, DVDs, music and other materials; they have become full scale community centers offering a variety of services and programs for children, teens and adults. Buildings which were once tomb-like places where no one dared speak above a whisper have transformed into vibrant centers where people of all ages and interests come to share ideas, learn new skills, participate in hobbies, attend classes and concerts, access the Internet, get help with job searches, view the works of local artists, and much more. We are too busy to be very quiet!

Miss Chrissy helps
Walk into the Hickory Corner Branch and you will hear the sounds of toddlers singing along with the children’s librarian at story time, adults interacting with one another over the morning newspapers and coupon swap, volunteers tutoring those looking to improve their English language speaking skills, and the low clack of keyboards at the computer stations where children and adults reach out to the world beyond our walls. You might even hear the chicks cheep-cheeping in our demonstration coop. And these days, patrons are even allowed to bring covered beverages and dry snacks to make them more comfortable during their visit (just not near the computers!).

Yolande helping
Today’s public library also serves as a community gateway for all types of information, not just books. We offer notary service, tax forms, passport applications, voter registration forms, online directions, immigration forms, database searching instruction and library catalog demos. Our public access computers provide a means for patrons to apply for jobs, unemployment and healthcare benefits, do their banking, apply for financial aid for college, scan and email documents, take online courses and exams, play games, and catch up on the news and social media. There are also meeting rooms that non-profit community groups can reserve for free. On any given day, we might be hosting a Scout troop, a cultural group, a condo association, homeschoolers, a book club, a knitting group, a guest lecturer, a meditation class, a children’s concert, a tutoring service, or any number of other events. And, if you do need that quiet space, most branches have a quiet study room or more-secluded corner where you can focus on your work.

Visiting Swimmy
We are proud to say that our branch draws an average of over 400 people per day from babies to seniors. Many come to search for a specific book or DVD, then stay to explore the ongoing book sale, use a computer, get help at the reference desk, or just to visit our branch pet, Swimmy the betta fish. Some patrons arrange to meet a counselor, tutor or friend here. Tutors and literacy volunteers utilize the library space to teach their students. Patrons enjoy our free copies of the New York Times crossword puzzles, afternoon movies, and explore a variety of crafts and hobbies. Parents of babies and toddlers socialize and share parenting tips after story times and special children’s events. Teens meet in study groups and access the free Wi-Fi to work on homework assignments. Adults with intellectual disabilities come to volunteer with our coupon swap and stay to participate in social activities. We are also a convenient rest stop for those who use the walking path behind our library, and an official cooling center for seniors in the summer heat. And, for many of our seniors, the library is also a major avenue for socialization beyond the senior center—a place to take classes, interact with neighbors and library staff, read the news and cruise the internet to stay connected with family and friends far away.

Remember, whether you like books, movies, music, art, meeting new people, or trying new things, there is a whole lot of all of that going on at the public library. Plus, everything here is free—a tremendous value for everyone in the community, funded entirely by local taxes and charitable donations. We are very proud of our online and digital services and you may not need to visit the library as often now, but you should still come on in and check out what is happening today!

—Yolande, Sue and Sharon, Hickory Corner Branch

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