Bellingham, Whatcom libraries offer technology, community - and books

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 14, 2014 

A few weeks ago, The Bellingham Herald ran an article about a branch library in San Antonio, Texas, that's completely digital. It's called BiblioTech, and instead of bound copies of printed books, they offer eBooks, a computer lab, and even a tiny café. It sounds revolutionary; it looks like an Apple Store; and it's getting a lot of press.

After digging a little deeper, we are struck by two things. First, despite the library's focus on technology, BiblioTech is still a physical place - a gathering place in a neighborhood, where library staff members host programs and classes, lead storytimes, and interact with students after school. Second, unlike BiblioTech, Bellingham Public Library and Whatcom County Library System offer a wide array of electronic resources to meet a variety of information needs, and we offer programs, storytimes, staff assistance, and we offer actual books - printed books - for those who prefer them.

April 13 to 19 is National Library Week, a good time to remind readers that if you're not using your public library, you're missing out - on technology and books! Some examples: nearly 100 eMagazine titles via Zinio (everything from The Economist to Us Weekly), perfect for your tablet or smartphone; thousands of eBooks and eAudiobooks via the Washington Anytime Library; and hours and hours of online computer classes (like Excel or Windows Server) via Microsoft IT Academy, recently introduced in libraries statewide and funded by the Washington State Legislature.

Other digital resources include Ancestry.com (available at the Bellingham Public Library, Everson McBeath Community Library and the Lynden Library), Consumer Reports online, web-based test prep services, and Mango Languages. Learn to speak Italian (or Tagalog, Hawaiian, even pirate!). All of these library services are available to you, free of charge, 24/7.

Having trouble figuring out your latest digital device? Both Bellingham Public Library and Whatcom County library branches offer tech coaching sessions where library staff and tech volunteers can assist you in downloading eBooks, navigating the internet, using a mouse, or overcoming other technology challenges. With regards to books - we've got those too, several hundred thousand ready for your reading pleasure. Need someone to recommend a good title? Ask any of our friendly staff members for suggestions. If you belong to a book discussion group, you will want to know about library book club kits that contain ten copies of a title and discussion questions; these kits are available to reserve online, and the libraries have close to 200 titles from which to choose.

Recently, your local libraries received grants from the Allen Family Foundation intended to explore ways that libraries serve as community hubs. In Bellingham, this project became the new "SkillShare Space" at the Central Library, where community members may gather and share their expertise with each other, on topics ranging from creative crafting to survival skills and more.

In Everson, the grant provided funds to develop the Nooksack Valley Heritage Center at the Everson McBeath Community Library. In addition to technology and equipment for the public to preserve their family history, the center will be a space for the library to present programming related to the history of our region.

A recent Pew Research poll, "How Americans value public libraries in their communities," shows that 94 percent of Americans ages 16 and older say that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community - and 72 percent live in "library households" where family members have used a public library in the last 12 months. This is certainly true in our area, where library usage continues to be high. On rainy - and sunny - days, your libraries, from Barkley to Blaine and Fairhaven to Ferndale, are community gathering places to meet up with friends, attend an interesting program (see our online calendars for a complete listing of events), find a good read, or bring a child to learn (and play). Everyone's welcome!

If you live, work, or attend school in Whatcom County you can register for a library card online by visiting yourlibraries.org. Or stop by any Bellingham Public Library or Whatcom County Library System Happy National Library Week! See you at your libraries.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Pam Kiesner is director of the Bellingham Public Library and Christine Perkins is executive director of the Whatcom County Library System.

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