When libraries offer more than books

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Most people associate libraries with one thing: books. But Elting Memorial Library director Gillian Murphy says libraries are evolving to become lenders of much more. She points to the New Paltz Library’s “Object Library,” which includes all kinds of things cardholders can look up that aren’t books. “It’s something you borrow from your neighbor,” she says.

Elting’s Object Library includes items like a pressure washer, hiking gear, lawn games, gardening seeds, tools, a Fire TV stick to stream home services, a tablet, a sewing machine, a tent for 3 to 5 people, and a tent for 9 people.

“I really think libraries are about improving people’s lives, not about books,” Murphy said. “Before, all the information people needed was in books and some people couldn’t afford to buy books, and that’s why libraries came into being. Now the information is online. Libraries have changed. I particularly like it better. I think we can help more people. There is something for everyone at the library.

In recent years, the Library of Things movement has become a growing trend in libraries around the world. Broadly speaking, it describes a collection of items that can be borrowed from your local library and may include all of the above, kitchen appliances, craft supplies, and musical instruments. Murphy said adding a library of things to Elting Memorial was her first initiative after becoming director just over a year ago. Other local libraries, such as Chatham Public Library, are also on board. They launched a library of things in June and are asking community members to fill out a survey to see what they’d like to borrow.

Patterson Library Object Library in Putnam County consists of loaner tool shed, cake pans, hiking backpack kit, access points and passes for local museums like Storm King Art Center and Boscobel House and Gardens and destinations like the Guggenheim, Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum and American Museum of Natural History.

Depending on the article, there are different guidelines for borrowing. At the Elting Memorial Library, there is a seven-day loan period for borrowers aged 18 or over and holders of a library card in good standing. If the items are damaged, stolen or lost, the borrower will be charged the cost to replace it.

Murphy says the library of things has been a constant draw for people signing up for new library cards at Elting Memorial. One advice she has for other libraries when building an object library is that it should reflect each community.

“The more I get to know this community, the more I can provide what they want,” Murphy said.

Local libraries in the Hudson Valley are also gathering spaces. This summer, eight Putnam County libraries are participating in a special event where if you visit each one and get your “passport” stamped, you’re entered into a raffle for prizes including gift certificates for restaurants and local attractions.

At the Elting Memorial Library, Murphy said she had asked people to borrow space in the library for an event or use it as meeting space. Recently a group of 15 nursing students used it for a study meeting. At the Patterson Library, there is a similar study space, but the library also has a wonderful outdoor space with a gazebo, garden, and patio with benches if people want to hang out and use the library’s Wi-Fi from there.

“A library card is the most valuable card in your wallet,” Patterson Library Director Stephanie Harrison said.

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