This summer, I had the opportunity to witness the latest in cutting-edge library services when I took a tour of Arlington Central Library (Va.), a thriving community center located a few miles outside of Washington, D.C. There, I spoke with Arlington Public Library Director Diane Kresh, a library veteran who has made significant strides to modernize the library system since she became lead director six years ago.
The library system, which is made up of seven local library branches and a central library that serve more than 212,000 library patrons, offers community members the latest ebook titles, online databases and audio files. The library hosts weekly technology training classes for patrons that cover topics ranging from computer hardware concepts to digital photos to online job searching. The library is also working to teach library patrons how to effectively use e-readers, tablets and smartphones to access information.
One of Kresh’s main achievements has been the creation of the library’s Digital Projects Lab, a pop-up, tech-filled space that provides the technology resources for community members to create digital projects. The lab offers patrons scanners, tablets, printers, as well as visual and audio editing software.
Additionally, Arlington Public Library staff are always looking at ways to change the spacing layout at each of the system’s branch libraries as libraries become technology centers, and more and more library patrons turn to libraries for free Internet access and public meeting spaces. Kresh says that the steps taken to modernize the library are necessary if the library wants to continue to serve the public’s evolving needs.
“The future of libraries is changing, and soon you’ll see less of the divisions of areas, and more seamlessness in libraries,” said Kresh, who worked at the Library of Congress for more than 32 years on special collections issues, veterans history and virtual reference projects before coming to Arlington Public Library. “Spaces will need to be changed to accommodate libraries as both community centers and work spaces. People will come to Skype and meet with others.”
The Arlington Public Library team invests heavily in the library system’s website—the library uses the website to ensure that Arlington community members are informed about new resources, library events, book talks and digital tools. As a result of their efforts, the Arlington Public Library website is now the most visited website in the county, according to Peter Golkin, public information officer for the Arlington Public Library.
“Our website is going to where the user is,” said Kresh. Library staff use the interactive website to blog about the library’s community-based work, notifying local library patrons about upcoming college-and-career events, the progress of its community garden (which provides food year-round for the needy), and the success of the library’s summer reading program.
Kresh says that her library staff don’t do it alone—they rely on the work of volunteers and friends of the library (officially called the Friends of Arlington Public Library) to support the library community.
“The friends of the library are our chief vehicle of supporters,” said Kresh, adding that they are helping to transform libraries into community spaces. “All social adult and children programs are supported by the Friends.” Most notably, the Friends of Arlington Public Library organize the library’s twice-annual book sale, a four-day event that draws large crowds to the library branches.
Ultimately, Kresh says that her libraries rely on volunteers and supporters to advocate for funding for her libraries.
“Our funding comes from a local municipality, and we make sure that the friends of the library understand when our library budget have been cut,” she said, adding that local funding support allows her libraries to provide community members with ebooks and Internet access. “We need support to continue to be a resource for the community.”