By Jack Firneno
Wire Staff Writer
Last Tuesday, Len Moskoff gave a 70-minute presentation on Charlie Chaplin. The 71-year-old retired accountant spent weeks researching the iconic silent film star, and hours teaching himself how to use PowerPoint.
Two days later, local self-published author Dean Morey entertained kids and parents with a storytelling session followed by arts and crafts.
It’s a lot of activity — and a lot of noise — in a place where you’re supposed to be quiet.
Moskoff’’s lecture kicked off Tuesday Talks, a new series at Upper Moreland Library, where residents can present their findings on any topic unrelated to their profession. Morey’s show was one of the many family programs at Huntingdon Valley Library.
“Libraries are changing with the times and meeting public needs,” explained Upper Moreland Public Library Director Margie Repka-Peters. “It’s a big difference from the library 50 years ago providing print resources.”
And these organic changes are getting support from PA Forward, an advocacy campaign spearheaded by the Pennsylvania Library Association. “It’s a way for us to have a cohesive message with all of our programming,” said Sharon Moreland-Sender, director of the Huntingdon Valley Public Library. “It helps us give voice to the community about what libraries are and what we’re becoming.”
Much of this evolution has to do with the Internet — but not necessarily the notion that digital media is making hardcovers and paperbacks obsolete.
“Even with all this technology, people still love the tactile nature of print books,” observed Sharon Moreland-Sender.
And, she says, they like having a place to come to for them.
“People pick up a book and then read here for three hours on one of our comfy leather couches.”
The library is a meeting place that’s propelling these institutions into the 21st century. “It’s more of a community now, versus someone stopping by a location where people warehouse books,” said Repka-Peters. “People read the newspaper here, and then discuss it.”
Of course, they may be reading that newspaper on a tablet — or seeking help on setting up their new electronic reading device. “Our librarians have to be tech-savvy,” said Moreland-Sender. “People are asking how to set up online magazines on a tablet. Loving books and reading is great, but you need that [technological expertise] to work at a modern library.”
A decade ago, she explained, people would come in asking for an address or where they could find a product or service. “Now, those are the things you Google.”
But the Internet has created a new need: computer skills for people who never needed them before.
“The greatest impact was when social services started requiring electronic access,” said Repka-Peters.
Today, people of all ages are expected to sign up for unemployment benefits, Social Security, veterans’ benefits and more online. Internet access and skills are also required to get a job. “[Employers] want you to email a resume and apply online,” she continued.
Information literacy is an important new part of libraries, and extends far beyond teaching people how to tab between fields on a website or use a dropdown menu.
“My reference librarian will help people evaluate websites and guide them toward authoritative sites,” said Moreland-Sender.
It’s an important skill to have: The PA Forward website notes that only one in five results for a medical query in a search engine leads to relevant health information.
“People need to identify reputable sites where you can find reference and determine who’s responsible for [the content],” she continued.
But just as much as libraries are teaching people how to find good information, they’re also doling it out — especially to young families. Both Huntingdon Valley and Lower Moreland libraries feature innovative programming for young children and their parents. Today, it’s not just story time — it’s story time and yoga at Huntingdon Valley, for instance, and nutrition experts and child psychologists on hand for parents at Lower Moreland while their kids play at the sand table or music station.
“People think of libraries of being for people old enough to read,” said Repka-Peters. “We want to debunk this.” Instead, parents are bringing young children in as part of their daily routine and while their toddlers are playing, the grownups are learning how to prep them for when they learn to read in a few years. “It’s revolutionizing what a public library means.”
But the programming for the very young and very old isn’t anything new for libraries. What’s changing is involvement for people in between.
“Within the last 20 years there’s been a focus on teens,” says Moreland-Sender. Now that those kids are adults, “That group is demanding library programs and services.”
And, Huntingdon Valley is responding to them with book date nights, craft-beer tastings and book collections targeting 20- to 40-year-olds.
“We used to have people use the library as children and then again as parents. That’s changing,” she said.