Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Tracie Mitchell
Staff Writer 

Libraries offer more than just printed books


April 23, 2016

Tracie Mitchell

Quentin Boltz uses a computer at the Washakie County Library in Worland to fill out on-line job applications Friday afternoon.

WORLAND – In this day and age of instant gratification, the internet and everything becoming digital people have begun to question the future of public libraries. Why would a person need to visit the library when they can download a book onto their Kindle, iPad, other electronic devices and even their smart phones? The answer: because libraries offer more, much more than just printed books.

Washakie County Library Director Karen Funk stated, "The reason that people think that libraries are becoming obsolete is the development of new products. But it's not just the library, you will find that at the bank, you have a bank that you go to and you have tellers which are being displaced because of remote banking, online banking, so they have to reinvent themselves and what they can do. Taxis, you call for an Uber ride now. Video rental they are competing with video streaming, so libraries are going to do whatever they have to, to transform into the library that you want for your community. We are ever evolving to become what our community needs."

The library is a vault of information. People come to the library and call the library for information that they need whether it be the road conditions or the weather. "We are here to inform the public, we receive phone calls about everything. People call here to find things out such as when the museum is open, they call if they have a funny looking bird in their yard, so we are not just about reading books," Funk said.

People also come to the library to use the computers or the free internet for a variety of reasons. "More than a quarter of U.S. households do not have a computer with internet. If you're counting on the internet to be the answer to your problems you have a fourth of your population in this country that can't access the information," Washakie County Library Board member Judy Morrison said.

With the rising unemployment rate the computers and internet at the public libraries will become irreplaceable. "As people become unemployed, they are not going to be able to pay the bills on their smart phone or on their laptop – they are not going to be able to pay for that internet at home and RT communications and TCT West provide internet service to the county libraries for the community at no charge to the libraries. Those people who live in our community, who as times get tough they may be losing their jobs and they're not going to be paying for the internet. They are going to be coming to the library and they are going to be using our internet. They're not going to be buying e-books, they're either going to download an e-book out of our databases or they are going to come and get a real book," Funk stated.

Morrison added, "A lot of people need computer access to fill out job applications, everyone is looking for jobs these days and if you don't have internet a lot of times you can't even apply, you can't even get the application to fill out."

The libraries' internet is also used by college students for taking tests. "Right now we have a lot of people coming in for testing. This has been really very evident to us in the last couple weeks. They can't get a job in the oil field or the coal mine, so they have to move on and reinvent themselves. People are coming here and they need the computers, needing a place to be proctored and we are here for them," Funk stated.

Libraries offer their patrons technology training. "Ninety percent of public libraries across the nation offer technology training. If people want tech tutor help we give them tech tutor help. We have staff that can address when the grandson gives grandpa an iPad and the grandpa doesn't know how to use it. We help a lot with little things like that," Funk explained.

Morrison said, "I'm one of those people, I've used a computer since they came out but I still need help every time they change a platform, every time they change something. I got a new cell phone and I have to ask my kids or ask the staff at the library how to change things. The library is a good friendly place to help you with your technology."

Both children and adults spend so much time on their electronic devices that socializing has become a thing of the past. You see families out to eat together and they are all on their cell phones, not socializing with each other. The public library offers programs for both children and adults that promote not only learning but socializing as well. Ten Sleep School sixth-grade teacher Nikki Erickson said, "Libraries do more than just provide books. Their programs help promote socializing, not just the kids programs but the adult programs as well, like the Christmas open house, the harvest dinner and the book discussions.

"The kids here go to programs put on by the library. On teacher work days and school vacation days, the library knows that the kids will be home while mom and dad are working, so they generally have programs for them. When we first moved to Ten Sleep, my kids were not in school yet and story time was a way for my kids to get to know other kids their age because we lived so far out of town and didn't have neighbor kids. So we would come into story time once a week and the girls got to meet other kids their age so when they started school they knew their peers," she added.

Funk added, "We help a lot with people who are lonely, they come in here and sit down so that they can see people rather than sit at home. They come and visit with the librarians, read the newspaper, attend our programs and they look at the new things that we have. People are comfortable here; we are a safe place to be. The library has always been a safe place; you could always be safe in the library."

With all the things that the library offers in today's day and age, they still offer the printed book. "It's important that kids are read to and that you have picture books for kids, not just games on the computer. They need to be read to, they need to see those books, they need to hold them in their hand and be able to turn the pages. You see kids that don't know how to read yet, but they will bring you their book and 'read' it to you. You can't do that with a Kindle or a computer. Yeah the computer can read it to them, but it's not the same," Morrison explained.

Erickson added, "You can't replace opening a book, smelling a book, being transported into another world. It's not the same online or digitally, I don't think."

The times may change, the 'toys' that people use may change but the library will change with them. "We have to transform to meet the needs of the community. Each community has different needs and each library changes to meet those needs," Morrison stated.

Funk added, "A librarian in Casper who was on the news said anytime something evolved: phones, phonographs, TV, VHS, DVDs, the library didn't go away because of it, the library remained. Libraries were here a long time before all these new things happened. And as more new things come, we will evolve into what people need to share that information."


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