A concierge toting an iPad greets you when you walk in. There’s a quaint café with luscious treats just a few feet away. The latest issue of your favorite magazine or newspaper, along with your choice of movie DVD, music CD or book is within reach.
The Ritz Carlton? No, it’s your Tempe Public Library, 21st Century version.
Libraries across the nation are evolving from the static to the active, from a noun to a verb. With the advent of e-readers and easy Internet research, libraries are becoming community networking centers that provide access to relevant information virtually or in person, as well as creating a place to interact with experts and share ideas with your neighbors.
In the last six months, the Tempe Public Library has hosted plays for hundreds of giggling children and adult-focused classes to help people buy homes, lower their energy bills and learn to use portable reading devices.
Genealogy research classes, social media workshops and movie discussions are standard fare. Kids have played with worms while listening to a farmer play music, and competed with each other on an 8-foot-tall video game.
People have even made iPad cases and purses using damaged books—with librarians showing them how.
None of this is by accident.
Results of the city of Tempe’s community survey earlier this year clearly showed that residents want more programming and classes that are interesting and relevant to their lives, as well as more in-depth one-on-one help with research and projects that they care about.
In response to the survey, gone is the stereotype of a librarian who waits for you to come and ask a question while enforcing complete silence.
Instead, the newly reconstituted librarian concierge at the front of the library greets you warmly, asks you how he or she can be of assistance and, with the sweep of fingers on the iPad, assists you immediately or finds the right person on staff to help you individually with your needs.
Librarians available throughout the facility make recommendations for books and movies, and tell you about upcoming classes and workshops.
“Since Internet research can be done from the comfort of the home or office, we find that the reason people come into the library today is to get expert help, learn valuable skills or talk to like-minded readers,” said Library Director Barbara Roberts.
“People come to the library to relax, to learn something interesting or fun, and engage with others. They come to be part of the larger community, to network via our Internet computers or in person.”
Staff is also training people on how to get the most out of their library cards. Take your favorite magazine as an example. You don’t have to buy it. You can check it out from the library on your Kindle or tablet at no cost. Music, movies and books can be checked out the same way.
“It’s our intention to be that place, physical and virtual, that people use to engage and network with information, entertainment and each other,” Roberts said.
“And best of all, everything at the library is always free.”
A Summer Reading Program is currently under way, with participants ranging from infants to adults being encouraged to sign up to earn prizes, such as Big Surf tickets, for reading.
So forget what you remember as a kid and dive into this library of the future. It’s a whole new place, a whole new experience, a whole new way to help navigate through the challenges and opportunities of a new kind of world.
Information, directions, hours and a calendar of activities: www.tempe.gov