Local libraries: more than just a place to read

NH libraries are community centers that provide instruction and programs for all ages

Twenty years ago, when you went to the library it was to borrow a print book, but libraries in New Hampshire have drastically changed in what programs and services it offers to adults, kids and teens.

Libraries have become community centers that are more interactive and focused on the needs of patrons of all ages in towns and cities across the state.

Summer reading programs

Ann Hoey, youth and adult services librarian at the New Hampshire State Library, said New Hampshire has about 234 public libraries. Most of those libraries participate in the national Collaborative Summer Library Program, which has a different theme each year. This year the focus is on sports and fitness and “On Your Mark, Get Set, READ!” is the theme.

The summer reading program in New Hampshire is sponsored by the State Library and the Children's Librarians of New Hampshire, a section of the New Hampshire Library Association. It officially started as a statewide activity in 1990; however, Hoey said summer reading programs have been around the state much longer.

This is the first year the Boston Bruins will be supporting New Hampshire’s summer reading programs. The team is donating Bruins posters and sending their mascot, Blades, and the Boston Bruins Ice Girls to several libraries across the state to encourage participation.

Hoey says she hopes it is a relationship that continues in future years.

Another trend she is seeing in the state is that reading programs are being offered for every age group during the summer, not just children.

“In the past it was targeted mainly to school-age kids,” she said, “We are sort of finding more and more people are getting involved and it has become sort of a family program.”

In Nashua, you can join the summer reading program “no matter how old you are,” and win prizes for reading at every age, according to the library.

Events for kids scheduled around the program include a magic show, a library-athalon and Frisbee decorating. Teens entering grades 6 through 12 will enjoy a concert and field day among other events as part of the program, and they can help raise money for Special Olympics New Hampshire as they read.

The theme for adults is “Exercise Your Mind. Read” and those who join the program can enjoy yoga, a special speaking event featuring Baseball historian Rob Hannings and other activities.

Karyn Isleb, head of Youth Services at Manchester City Library, wrote in an email that last year, 551 kids signed up for summer reading, which was the most they have had participate, with a goal of 3,000 books to read. They read past the goal to 3,468 books. This year, the group goal is 3,750 books. They will also hold weekly scavenger hunts, hiding theme-based items, and they will be working with Brookside Church in Manchester.

They will not only hold family story times at the church and allow books to be checked out, but they will also be holding activities at Northwest Elementary School, the Mall of New Hampshire and the Currier Museum of Art. So if you can’t make it to the library buildings in the city, they might be in an area near you. They also plan to visit child care centers and preschools in the city.

Isleb said the way they run the summer reading program in Manchester, like in many towns, has changed over the years.

“The reading program itself is a group effort so to speak. For many years, we had individual goals for the kids to reach. While it was good for many of the kids, it wasn’t for those that we are trying to reach the most; the ones who struggle with reading. Even though the reading goal of the summer was 10 books, those who struggle with reading would just give up. So, we changed the goal to a group goal where everyone works together….no matter how many books you read, if it was 1 or 100, every single one counts towards the group goal. And boy, just that little change made a huge difference.”

Cara Barlow, library director at the Derry Public Library, said they have also moved away from “traditional competitive reading programs,” and like to include and integrate learning for all ages.

Like many libraries, Derry will be using the theme “On Your Mark, Get Set, READ!” and is one of the libraries that will receive a visit from the Boston Bruins mascot and the Ice Girls.

In Hooksett, the summer reading program will be an astronomy, space and science theme, “Reading is out of this World.” The program is open to all ages. Events include stargazing and a live animal educational session.

Technology and more

Mathew Bose, assistant director at the Hooksett Public Library, said he thinks one of the biggest changes in recent years at libraries is “the library is available to you 24/7.”

“Libraries are embracing technology,” he said.

E-books and magazines are available for download, and research tools through the library’s site are available any time of day. They also offer one-on-one appointments and tutorials on technology.

“We are filling that information need,” Bose said.

The library in Hooksett has even added a Minecraft club to their list of events for kids.

Libraries across the state are offering more fitness classes, up-and-coming trendy activities and clubs, and they check out more than just books to patrons.

The Nashua library has many programs catering to the community including foreign language groups, ukulele rentals and concerts, while the Hooksett library circulates Lego kits, science kits and even cake pans.

The libraries in Manchester this summer are offering Reading Education Assistance for Dogs, which features two dogs who will visit both buildings so kids can to read to them.

The Derry library is located next door to MacGregor Park and they have used that to their advantage, working with the local parks and recreation department.

As part of the summer program for kids and teens, they will hold Quidditch practice in the park for ages 5 to 9, and another practice for kids older than 10. They will hold yoga story time at the library and host performances by local dance and theatre organizations, among other events.

Barlow says she likes to see not only younger children but teens participating in programs at the library.

“We are very interested in building relationships with families,” she said.

Check out your local library to see what programs and services they are offering this summer and year-round.   

Andrea Bushee is a freelance writer in Pembroke and mom to Jackie, Justin and Julie.

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