The range of things – other than books – that you can check out at Sacramento Public Libraries is expanding. This weekend the library system is launching its new Library of Things, intended to help push the library into the future.
Everything that ends up in Sacramento’s 28 library branches starts out in the basement of the Central Library in downtown Sacramento.
“This is where we have a lot of our collections,” says Lori Easterwood who is overseeing the new Library of Things. “They’re here for processing and cataloging.”
“So we just got the instruments in and we’re un-boxing those,” explains Easterwood. “This has been kind of like Christmas, opening all of this fun stuff – ukuleles, a couple of sets of drums.”
The library’s circulation coordinator Shari Nichelini is un-boxing a beautiful, rosewood colored Spanish guitar.
“Oh that one’s pretty,” says Nichelini. “It needs to be tuned though.”
Nichelini has also been cataloging 70 boutique board games with names like The Forbidden Desert and Munchkin Deluxe. She has to keep a record of all the little game pieces and put them into plastic bags.
“We have some that are more adult kind of games. Not the “adult” adults but adult-age kind of games, family games, lots of family games and younger kid games.”
The Library of Things also includes video games, GoPro cameras and sewing machines that you can check out with your library card and take home. There are some things you can check out at the library but you can’t take out. Things like a bike repair station and a 3-D scanner. Easterwood says they picked all these things based on the results of an online vote through the library’s website.
“One of the funny things that somebody suggested for the Library of Things - an automobile - being able to check out a car from the library which was not in our budget.”
That budget is $10,000 – money from a federal grant the library got through the Library Services and Technology Act. Easterwood trusts that all these newly bought “things” will come back undamaged.
“There will be an agreement that people have to sign for some of the items, the more expensive ones,” says Easterwood. “And they’ll be expected to bring them back in the condition they found them, just as they would any other item.”
Above the basement processing center, on the main floor, people are checking out the library’s more traditional offerings – books, along with CDs and DVDs.
The folks we talked to like the library’s expansion of its non-book offerings.
“People might not be able to have access to something they might want to explore,” said Lynn Flanigan. “It’s a hard economy right now. And I think it’s a fabulous idea.”
“Some people would see something and they might say ‘well, hey I like this,’ you know,” said Arzo Thames. “And it becomes a hobby or something.”
“A lot of people used to be able to borrow things from their neighbors or from family members,” said Ellen Walrath. “And this makes another option.”
Sacramento’s Library of Things is part of a nationwide effort to reintroduce us to our local libraries and expand ideas of what a library can be.
“There’s a movement towards a lot of innovation and experimentation in libraries,” says Ken Haycock, a longtime library and information science educator with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“I think the issue is – how can we have more experiments and innovations that are still true to the mission of libraries? And that’s what you’re seeing in Sacramento,” said Haycock. “It needs to be girded in a distinct community need and a very strong assessment in terms of the benefit of a return on investment for community tax dollars.”
In Sacramento, those dollars come from property taxes.
Rivkah Sass is Sacramento’s library director. She says even though e-books from the library are gaining in popularity, people still want to come to a physical location – traditional book checkouts are up by about three percent. And Sass says the Library of Things is an extension of new ways people are using the library.
“They’re using us more as gathering places,” says Sass. “We offer high school diplomas, prom dresses which we do also, you can come into the library and borrow a prom dress. And the things are just one more facet of helping people, sure have fun - we have a lot of games, but there are other resources that they'll then discover that we have by coming in maybe for the fun thing."
Items from the Library of Things will be offered at the Arcade branch on Marconi Avenue. That’s where a kick-off event will be held this Saturday.