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updated: 1/30/2014 1:53 PM

Lisle Library adapting to strengthen connections with patrons

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  • Libraries are adapting their collections, offerings and physical space to fit patrons' needs. Lisle Library leaders say the library can be a "third space," where people hang out when not at home or work. This area was converted to a "readers' hub."

      Libraries are adapting their collections, offerings and physical space to fit patrons' needs. Lisle Library leaders say the library can be a "third space," where people hang out when not at home or work. This area was converted to a "readers' hub."
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer, APRIL 2012


Correction: This story was updated to reflect that Lisle Library's 46 percent increase in circulation referred only to e-books.

Local libraries connect patrons to an array of information, technology and learning resources.

"If done right, a local library can be the heartbeat of a community," said Janice Del Negro, associate professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University in River Forest.

"There are so many things we do in the library today that it is a multifaceted establishment," said Lisle Library Director Shannon Halikias.

The 29,500-square-foot Lisle Library, 777 Front St., loans about 11,000 items a month. Its e-book circulation is up 46 percent over last year, according to Halikias. She sees the heaviest usage from families, children and seniors, with a strong connection to all schools in the community. She is pleased there is no charge for its programming or classes because it is tax supported.

The key word for Halikias to describe the Lisle Library is "connections."

At the new Connections Desk, a knowledgeable staff helps patrons download e-books and use tablets. Patrons may borrow Kindles and Nooks to use, but more importantly a staff person will show you how to use the device.

Connections also is the new name of the bimonthly newsletter that features a new logo and tells the library's story rather than just lists events.

A redesigned website goes active at the end of January with the same mission -- to connect.

Local libraries always have evolved and encouraged the free flow of information.

"We come from strong stock," Halikias explained. "Ben Franklin was the first librarian in the United States, and we continue to revolutionize the way we encourage education, culture and strengthen the American mind."

We may chuckle at the stereotype of a stodgy librarian of the 1930s or '40s demanding silence, but it is simply not today's librarian.

"'Adaptability' is a word I think of when I think of our librarians today," Halikias said. "We honor those traditions and those things that make a library, such as books, people and community. Those are the things that will always be at the core of a library."

Halikias explained that youth services did not become commonplace in libraries until the 1940s, and now youth services is fundamental to today's libraries.

"A public library built in the '60s and '70s was utilitarian and not necessarily inspiring, but very functional," said Christopher Stewart, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University and author of "The Academic Library Building in the Digital Age: A Study of Construction, Planning, and Design of New Library Space."

A recent Associated Press story reported on a new San Antonio public library that contained no books. According to the story, the new Texas library is located in the city's economically depressed area of town where most families do not have Internet service in their homes, so a library stocked with technology reflects the needs of its community.

For many patrons, libraries are the only free outlet to access Internet services. Not everyone has Internet access at home. The library also offers printers, copiers and computer use. In the process, it levels the playing field for all patrons.

Many libraries also offer cultural and enriching programming, technology fluency, English as a second language resources and support with a job search.

The 2014 Big Read program, this year centering on "The Longest Road" by Phil Caputo, is a great example of sharing costs as it brings communities and programming together in the towns served by these libraries: Lisle, Clarendon Hills, Downers Grove, Hinsdale, Indian Prairie, LaGrange, LaGrange Park, Thomas Ford and Woodridge.

Details will be announced at the nine libraries in February and classes will take place in March and April.

As libraries look outward, there are fascinating ways to connect.

For starters, Halikias knows people want to spend some time in the library, and often consider it the third place to be after home and work.

"The library as a third space is an important notion," Stewart said. "It was an idea put forth by Ray Oldenburg, a social scientist, a place that anchors community life and facilitates creative interaction."

According to Stewart, inviting new library designs incorporate warmer spaces, soft seating, lower shelving, gathering rooms and flexible interior space. The library always has been home to many activities and programs in addition to books, Stewart said.

On the technology front, libraries lead the way for many patrons. One of the newest additions are Makerspaces, Del Negro said.

Libraries are working on Makerspaces, which are collaborated spaces where patrons create something using the library's 3-D printers, scanners and laser cutters. Innovators, budding manufacturers and creative minds use technology for imaginative output as part of the Maker Movement.

At the core of the movement, people from the community come together, share knowledge and resources, and learn from one another.

The Lisle Library will launch a Maker-inspired series titled "Ask an Expert." Halikias has lined up a scuba diver who will share his expertise in the near future. If you want to share your unique talent, special skill, hobby or knowledge, pick up an application at the Connections Desk.

"The physical book remains one of the many important design considerations for libraries," Stewart said. "In terms of design, the public library is evolving and being built for books, technology and interactive learning spaces where people can go and explore together."

The local library has always served to inspire its community; it now has many different ways to achieve its mission.

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle regularly in Neighbor.

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