- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Slade Carroll’s computer was temporarily out of commission, a casualty of curiosity.

“I thought I could be cool and take it apart … and put it back together again,” the College of Western Idaho student said. Problem was, reassembly didn’t go as planned.

The 21-year-old needed to get some writing done, so he made a trip down to the Nampa Public Library - an impressive $12 million building that has become a three-story hive of activity since it opened in March.

“It’s easy to find. It’s huge,” said Patrick Driskell, a 5th-grader who practiced bike tricks while waiting for friends outside the 62,000-square-foot library. Parents carried armloads of books and bags stuffed with other items from the library, and several paused for straggling children who were trying to fish pennies out of the plaza fountain.

The library has 36 computers available to the public, including a dozen laptops that can be checked out for use within the building. Carroll got a laptop and set it up on a table with built-in plugs, a convenience for those with energy-sucking devices that need to be recharged.

Computers, 3-D printers and tech support provided by librarians are big attractions at Valley libraries, which are flourishing despite worldwide concern that libraries might become obsolete book warehouses in the Age of Google. Library leaders say technology, tools and formats may change, but libraries continue to do many of the same things they’ve always done: Promote children’s literacy, help patrons find information and materials, provide opportunities to try new things and offer spaces where the public can quietly mix or boisterously mingle.

Ever wanted to try a GoPro video camera or learn to play the ukelele? Meridian residents can check those out of their library. Such equipment and realia aren’t new to libraries. The Boise Public Library once circulated Polaroid cameras, engravers and even small plaster facsimiles of great sculptures and art prints.

“We are considering providing check out for ‘finchbots’ and other coding robots for people to experiment and learn with at home,” Boise Library Director Kevin Booe said. Several libraries are looking at checking out mobile hotspots, which offer wireless Internet access.

Prognosticators said digital books might by now supplant their print counterparts. Circulation data from local libraries shows that digital checkouts are growing quickly, but patrons still love the printed page. Digital checkouts account for less than 10 percent of all circulation at four Treasure Valley libraries.

Data from those libraries - Boise, Garden City, Meridian and Nampa - show solid increases in total circulation and library visits for all when comparing fiscal years 2004 and 2014. Circulation increases ranged from Nampa’s 29 percent (at the old location) to Meridian’s high of 142 percent.

Those who doubt the data may be surprised to find lines outside libraries prior to opening and scarce parking spaces soon after. Total visits to Boise libraries grew 30 percent over the past decade to 1.4 million, thanks in part to three new branches. Visits to the main library dropped 3 percent during that time period, though fiscal year 2015 data show visits back up.

“Our No. 1 complaint is (lack of) parking,” Booe said. Library officials will soon engage the community in a conversation about the future of the main branch - should it be renovated or rebuilt, and what options does the city have?

Valley library websites make it possible for patrons to download digital books, magazines, movies and music from home. Boise library users had more than 316,000 digital checkouts in fiscal 2015.

GROWING, NOT CONTRACTING

Local libraries are finding all sorts of new ways to serve patrons.

Last year, the Boise Public Library opened a branch at the airport, an idea that came from a digital library at the Philadelphia International Airport. Six touchscreen computers and charging stations are now available at Gate 16 on the B Concourse at the Boise Airport.

Denise McNeley, operations and outreach manager for the airport, said airport officials have received a lot of positive feedback. Booe received a note from a Houston man who was profoundly grateful to stumble upon the library equipment.

“His plane got delayed. He had two small kids and wondered, ‘What am I going to do for two and a half hours?’ ” Booe recalled.

The city broke ground on a new $8.5 million library branch at Bown Crossing in southeast Boise. Located on South Bown Way near Riverside Elementary School, the new branch might open as soon as December.

The Bown Crossing Branch’s features will include a reading room with a fireplace, group study rooms and a multipurpose room that can seat up to 90.

“It will have more meeting rooms than any of the other branches,” Booe said. “That was the No. 1 request of people in the neighborhood.”

Garden City and Meridian have also developed creative new offerings for patrons.

The Garden City Library, located on the first floor of City Hall and right on the Boise River, last fall celebrated the installation of a courtyard with an amphitheater, new landscaping, tables, benches, a drinking fountain (for humans and dogs) and Wi-Fi.

The library’s foundation raised more than $180,000 to fund the project, which created an outdoor experience for users that no other library in the Valley has. The Idaho Library Association honored the library with three awards this year, including Library of the Year, Friend of the Year (Nancy Rollins, vice president and Book Nook coordinator) and Paraprofessional of the Year (Vanessa Fisher, who has worked at the library nine years).

The library association lauded the staff for showing originality in its development of teen programs and working with community partners.

On Oct. 15, Meridian celebrated the grand opening of a new tech library called unBound at 713 N. Main St. That’s close to a new business incubator, New Ventures Lab.

The library was launched to help serve the needs of entrepreneurs, small businesses and others with a need for prototyping and design software. UnBound offers work and meeting space, 3D printers, a CNC machine, laptops, a podcast studio - and skilled librarians to assist users. It’s currently open to all.

Library staff is still working out the details of fees and reservations. If demand warrants, they will institute a system that prioritizes Meridian residents, Library Director Gretchen Caserotti said.

CHANGES all around

Local library directors said technology hasn’t changed their mission, but it is changing how they operate.

Digital information boards that cycle information about programs and services have replaced static signs with a singular message, and the Boise main library has a giant touchscreen “surfboard” where patrons can get information on scheduled programs, meetings and events. Some libraries are tearing down the old fortress-style desks that keep staff from interacting easily with patrons.

Booe said the Boise main library’s large circulation desk will likely be removed later this year. That will create more room for a browsing section and lounge seating. Like in Meridian, the Boise library will move from using barcodes to radio-frequency identification, smoothing checkout and allowing staff to more easily find misplaced items.

Sorting machines at the Nampa and Meridian libraries allow staff to spend less time on mundane tasks and more on helping people. Librarians today spend a significant amount of time providing technical support to people accessing information on eBook readers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Library computer usage remains strong because not everyone has a computer or Internet access at home.

The Boise Public Library has 46 PCs, and its records show patrons logged on an average of 805 sessions per day last year (session limits were two hours, but were increased to four hours last year). The Garden City Library’s 36 computers were used 63,104 times in 2014.

What do people use the computers for? Everything under the sun. They do research, surf the Internet, watch videos, read book reviews, look for health information and play games.

A Pew Research survey in the spring of this year determined that about a quarter of those who visited libraries in the United States over the previous year were looking or applying for jobs. That number was even higher a few years ago, when the country was still emerging from the recession.

About 14 percent of those using a library computer or Internet connection in the past year did so to acquire job-related skills or to increase their income, the Pew study found.

LIBRARY USERS

Retiree John Mouw lives about a mile from the Garden City Public Library, and he walks there six days a week. He’s a voracious reader, consuming about a book a day, he said.

On a recent weekday morning, he was sitting in a quiet corner reading “Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality” by David Cay Johnston. He wanted to read the book after seeing the author on “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

The 79-year-old said the staff at the library is very accommodating in acquiring new books that he wants to read.

“Anything I want, they’ll get it,” he said. “It’s very, very good service.”

Another regular patron of the small community library is Minister D.A. Clark, a pastor with Truth Seekers for Jesus Christ. She said she first became acquainted with the Garden City Library while attending weekly chess classes.

On a recent weekday morning, she sat next to a wall of magazines and read the Bible on her cellphone.

She said she prefers her print Bible to the one on her phone, though she does appreciate the digital hyperlinks that allow her to quickly look up the meanings of words.

“I don’t want print to ever become obsolete,” she said. “I am staunch that there is nothing to replace printed media throughout the world. God chose to put his word in print in the Bible. God writes.”

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, https://www.idahostatesman.com

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