It’s not the place where the library police hang out and stern-faced women with hairnets shush you for laughing.
If your last visit to a library was in high school, you’re in for some surprises because El Dorado County libraries aren’t just storage facilities for books.
Surprise No. 1
The doors may be locked, but the library is still open — 24/7.
“We asked ourselves if we couldn’t be open as many hours as we wanted to be due to budget constraints, what could we do to be available for our patrons?” said Jeanne Amos, executive director of the El Dorado County Library.
As part of a consortium of 27 Northern California libraries, the El Dorado County library was able to add a huge number of on-line programs available to patrons at any hour of the day or night.
One of the most exciting is the audio and e-book program. Books can be downloaded onto IPods, Mp3 players, IPads and most e-readers, except Kindles, for 7 to 14 days, just like checking out a book only without the need to bring it back.
“After the checkout period is over, the book vanishes from your device just like magic,” said Amos.
The program is device neutral, meaning it can be used without a wide variety of electronic devices instead of something specific like a cassette player. The program has been in place since January and is hugely popular with patrons.
Making it happen
“I am so proud that the El Dorado County Library has the second largest number of users in the consortium,” said Amos. “Online programs were beyond our reach, but we found a way to do it.”
With “Mango Languages” interactive online learning system, library patrons can learn a new language and customize the instruction to their own needs — all from their home computer. The library currently offers six languages and one “unofficial” language — pirate. One of the modules is designed for Hispanic speakers to learn English.
Trying to save money on car repairs by doing the work yourself?
Those Chilton automotive manuals can be expensive and hard to find, but with the “Auto Repair” database they are at the fingers of library patrons — for free.
Looking for a job?
The online “Job and Career Accelerator” will help determine the right job for you, search for available jobs, create résumés and cover letters, learn how to ace an interview and keep track of your job search.
Small businesses benefit with the online “Small Business Reference Center” with its business e-books, industry information and resources.
“We’ve added a lot more print books in how to start and run businesses from home, too,” said Amos.
“Learning Express” helps patrons to study for GED exams, prepare for SAT and ACT tests, learn Microsoft Word and Excel and many other computer programs. “Homework Help” has a plethora of resources and reference materials to help with homework, and the “Legal Information Reference Center” helps people understand legal information. The “Search Magazines and Newspapers” database offers thousands of articles for reference and research.
“You can pull consumer reports for free,” said Carolyn Brooks, El Dorado Hills library branch manager.
“This was a sacrifice because we had to take money from print books to do it,” said Amos, “but it’s been great.”
Surprise No. 2
“I think people would be surprised to know how busy we are,” said Amos. “Last year we checked out 900,000 items and we have 85,000 library card holders. We have even more users because some families use one card for the whole family. Our numbers are increasing because we offer so many programs.”
It’s not unusual for children’s programs to attract 200-300 people and last year’s Pirate Day brought 5,000 people to the El Dorado Hills Library according to Carolyn Brooks.
Surprise No. 3
El Dorado County libraries see more than half of the 0-5 year olds in the county and they are aiming for 100 percent said Carolyn Brooks.
“First Five of El Dorado County has made the library the early literature experts for the whole county. In addition to our library programs we make presentations at the preschools and daycares,” said Brooks, “and all of our programs are based on brain research and best practices.”
There are toddler storytimes, preschool story times, a “Let’s read together” story time for emergent readers and even a baby story time.
“Babies love coming to the library,” said Nancy Owen-Hazard, branch manager for the Cameron Park Library.
There are about 80 age-appropriate story time kits with felt boards, a script, puppets, activities and hand selected books available to be checked out by child care providers and library specialists model how to use them.
An e-mail newsletter lets parents know about the activities being offered. Librarians even teach classes for child care providers.
“Being full partners with First Five and the El Dorado County Office of Education has been transformational for the library,” said Amos.”We’re not trying to create baby Einsteins, but we are trying to develop early literacy skills and the response has been tremendous.”
“We work with all the community agencies,” said Owen-Hazard” to provide things like dental care education and screening for developmental stages with activities for each stage of development. And all of this is free.”
“You can only read as well as you speak,” said Brooks. “We are working to help children develop both word and world knowledge and we are supporting parents in learning how to teach their children.”
Surprise No. 4
“Teens are readers,” said Amos. “Thanks to the Harry Potter books and the Twilight series, it’s really rewarding to see reading being cool.”
Brooks is on the Teen Council of the Youth Executive League in the Library (YELL).
“We write a lot of grants and the teen council was three years in the making,” said Brooks, “With a grant and support from Friends of the Library for materials and a staff person, we started in March with about 20 teens. They wanted to meet every week instead of once a month and they are very community service oriented.”
YELL has already raised money for Japan relief, made 200 dresses for girls all over the world, sent care packages to soldiers and received training to be able to read to preschoolers in the extended day care programs when school starts.
“For the first time, the annual El Dorado Hills Library Pirate Day will be a real fund-raiser,” said Brooks. “Because the teen council members got thousands of dollars in donations to be auctioned off. Our grant runs out in August, but they are writing their own grant so they can go into October.”
In an effort to deal with the 75-100 unsupervised middle-school students who filter into the library after school each day, the El Dorado Hills library teamed up with a teen center and the middle schools near them to provide activities and free tutoring by two middle school teachers at the library.
The library provides transportation to and from the teen center and will even take kids home who haven’t been picked up yet.
Surprise No. 5
“Friends of the Library and our volunteers are like one of our internal organs,” said Amos.” They are the heart of the library and we couldn’t function without them.”
Friends of the Library and volunteers help to keep the library afloat, especially after the library’s book budget was cut in half and several full-time positions were lost due to budget cutbacks.
Boutique sales, lobby book sales, monthly book sales, author events and E-bay sales of books help pay for new books, programs, equipment, furniture and even the Bookmobile.
“The Bookmobile goes out once a week. Last year they checked out over 4,000 items and they are entirely funded by private donations and the Friends of the Library,” said Amos.
“The lobby book sales at the El Dorado Hills Library are about $1,000 a month,” said Brooks, “and the Friends of the Library raised $100,000 last year, mostly from book sales which are a whole business themselves with all the sorting, pricing, maintenance and online shopping.”
Hundreds of volunteers, including teenagers, put in thousands of hours doing the myriad of chores that keep the library running — shelving books, processing new and donated books to be ready to go out on the shelves, mending books, adding to the historical file and helping with programs.
“We’re only open 35 hours a week but we’re doing 20 percent more circulation and the numbers are growing,” said Amos. “We really depend on our volunteers.”
Surprise No. 6
“People are surprised that it’s not that easy to find things on the Internet,” said Amos,”but we have trained reference librarians who have the experience to find things easily.”
Reference librarians work closely with community resources like the law library on Main Street and the medical library.
“The El Dorado County Historical Museum is now part of Library Services,” said Amos, “so we have access to documents and archives that people might not know exist. People are always researching their families or want to know about property history.”
Surprise No. 7
Library activities and programs are free and libraries aren’t the “shushing places” they used to be, according to Owen-Hazard.
“Cameron Park has no downtown area so the library is the place to meet. It’s a vibrant place and children and families are welcome. We even have toys,” Owen-Hazard said.
Each branch of the county library has its own atmosphere and offerings, but all of them offer places to escape the heat or the cold; a quiet, safe place to cozy up with a book, study or meet a friend; a sanctuary for those escaping turmoil; a gathering place for families; a learning place for both children and adults.
“We get to see the impact we make,” said Amos.” We know we’re changing lives. Libraries have been a lifeline for the community in these challenging times.”
The El Dorado County Library is at 345 Fair Lane in Placerville. For more information call 350-621-5540.