Local libraries dish up educational services beyond traditional need

The dogfish shark lay on a table at the St. Helens Public Library, a long cut revealing the delicate architecture of its slimy innards.

It didn’t faze 5-year old Justice Stanton for one second.

With his hands protected by surgical gloves, he held a wide popsicle stick gently to the fish’s mouth and ran the stick back and forth.

“I’m brushing his teeth,” he said.

Libraries nowadays are about more than just books.

In some ways, and especially in rural communities, they can fill gaps that would otherwise remain open, say librarians.

During the economic recession, public libraries experienced increased traffic in the form of jobseekers and people who needed access to the Internet who either did not have home computers or who couldn’t afford to pay for the service, according to a 2010 study released by the American Library Association.

Scappoose Public Library Director Dan White saw people come through the door who had never had to use computers, or only used them in a work setting where there wasn’t much deviation from a set task. Faced with simple but new things like attaching files to e-mails or even setting up a web-based e-mail address, they floundered.

Through the state, Oregon public libraries have access to a number of databases and tutorials, many geared toward helping the unemployed, students and those struggling to learn computer basics.

In another nod to changing times, local libraries boast often extensive DVD and audiobook collections, as well as provide the ability to check out digital copies of audiobooks or electronic books online.

“During the recession, people gave up cable, they gave up going out to movies. They gave up a lot of things,” White said.

“How many places can you go and borrow hundreds of dollars worth of stuff and we don’t ask for a deposit?” he added. “Just bring it back in a couple of weeks.”

The St. Helens library recently received a library services and technology grant that allowed it to offer cards free of charge for at least one year to families who may not live within the St. Helens city limits, but whose children attend school in the district. The normal cost for a library card for out-of-town patrons is $40 per year.

To support and encourage those new cardholders, the other portion of the grant money has gone to the young adult and juvenile sections, replacing outdated or worn books and buying newly published materials.

The programs St. Helens Youth Librarian Nathan Jones has helped organize at the library run the gamut from educational to entertaining, but the goal is the same: to encourage kids to visit their local libraries.

Jones coordinated the Oct. 24 dissection event, which featured a variety animals as well as young volunteers ready to share what they’d learned with other kids.

“As a tax-supported institution, a library should try to meet the needs of the community,” White said.

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