Off The Shelf: It Might Surprise You

I recently gave a tour to a group of community members on the same day that I got to teach a short course in genealogy to a class of home school students. I love days like that. Sharing the library with people and helping them learn more about the resources and services that they can access is one of my favorite things to do. The most common feedback is surprise that there is so much offered.


When I show people around the library, they aren’t surprised to see the many shelves of books. Public libraries are well known for that. Most also know that libraries have magazines, newspapers, audiobooks, large print, music, and movies to borrow. They might be surprised to learn that our collection has over 160,000 physical items in it and especially surprised by the over 90,000 downloadable books and audiobooks that library cardholders can borrow.


While the shelves of books and other formats are easy to see in the library, the virtual library doesn’t have a physical presence for a visitor to discover as they walk through the building. The best way to see the virtual library is to go to the library’s website at and explore. In addition to the large downloadable collection, the library’s online resources also include streaming video and music services, one-on-one online tutoring, and a service devoted to helping job seekers and veterans. Cardholders also can find a directory of grant opportunities and a resource with technology tutorials.


New online library content is regularly being added, too. Most recently, the library added CreativeBug, a collection of video classes on a wide array of hobbies. Earlier this year, library cardholders got access to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal through our virtual library.


The class learning about genealogy was surprised by all the online genealogy tools that their library card gives them. With NewspaperArchive, anyone curious about history can search old newspapers from around the world, including the back issues of The Hawk Eye and former Burlington papers. Our library also gives cardholders use of Ancestry Library Edition and Heritage Quest. These two powerful tools have a wide array of searchable historical documents, including census, military records, and birth, marriage, and death records.


Our library also has a whole room of genealogy books and microfilm records. The students loved seeing that space and were surprised by how much we had for them to use for their research. Beyond what anyone can see in that room, much of the local history collection is stored behind the scenes for improved security and preservation. I love bringing out old maps, city directories, local business catalogs, school yearbooks, and more for tour groups to get a better sense of what our collection holds. These items are often unique to our library because they are very local in nature. All of this collection is in the library’s catalog and can be requested to view.


The collection items that most surprise people when they see them on a tour are things like cake pans and yoga mats. Because learning doesn’t just happen through reading, libraries also offer ways to learn by doing. Library cardholders can checkout out a cookbook and a cake pan to use for a baking project. They can borrow a yoga DVD and a mat so they can try it out at home. Families also can borrow STEM kits that let them do simple robotics, have all the tools for a storytime at home, or explore music with a backpack of instruments.


Most people know that public libraries have public access computers and free wifi access in the building. What might surprise them is that library cardholders can checkout a mobile hotspot or a chromebook kit to use for a week. From filing out forms and applying for jobs to taking classes and connecting to family, technology is a vital part of modern life. These tools help all community members have the access they need.


In addition to filling the need for technology access, the library also offers some technology support. People often are surprised that they can make an appointment with a librarian for one-on-one tech questions. We also offer a weekly drop in time for tech help.


Another surprise can be the hands-on activities available in the youth area. The area outside the storytime room is a busy place for kids to create using supplies from the art cart or explore using the new flight lab.


On my most recent tour, the participants enjoyed the stained glass art seen in lampshades and now two windows donated by a local artisans group. It can be a surprise to learn that the library has several art pieces. Thanks to a staff initiative, we have been adding labels with more information to our art pieces.


If you haven’t been to your local library lately, stop by and see what may surprise you. Maybe even ask for a tour.


See you at the library!