Public libraries have always served as repositories of knowledge, places to gather, to learn, to conduct scholarly research, to have a quiet place to study, to read and write and have free access to information. These libraries are often reflective of the towns, villages and cities they serve. Historic or modern, small and cottagelike or large and expansive, their mission is the same: to provide their citizenry with access to literary resources and professional library services. The Mid-Hudson Library System (MHLS), a cooperative of more than 60 libraries in five counties in the Hudson Valley region, has taken this edict one step further and works toward “economical resource sharing,” pooling their collections together so that someone who is a cardholder at a library within the system can request to borrow a book from another library within the cooperative.
Technological advances have made “access to information” a necessity that requires most libraries to provide Internet and computer availability for their patrons. But a trend that has taken off recently, particularly since the public health crisis, is the lending of things: physical objects as well as places along the bandwidth. “We lend knitting and crocheting needles, hooks and looms,” said Julie Dempsey, the director of the Highland Public Library. “We’ll even lend out yarn.”
As the majority of students are currently learning remotely, or primarily from home, as a response to the public health crisis, Dempsey said that the library has been lending out “learning kits,” including books, puzzles, games, blocks and manipulatives to “help enrich their home learning without having to add on more screentime.” She said that they have math kits and science kits and even a learning kit for the human body, as well as units on geography with puzzles of the United States and their various capitals.
The Highland Library also has a host of cake pans and baking pans that it lends out to patrons who “might want to bake a themed cake for their child’s birthday, but don’t want to necessarily buy the entire baking set,” Dempsey explained. “We have bake pans for Disney characters, unicorns, pirates, Marvel superheroes, butterflies.”
One of the greatest resources that the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz offers is genealogical research from the extensive archives in its Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection, which is in constant demand as people try to trace back their familial histories or piece together the evolution of the Town and Village.
Both New Paltz and Highland (and many other libraries throughout the Mid-Hudson Library System) are now lending out Wi-Fi “hot spots,” so that those who need Internet service can borrow it from their library. “We have two Wi-Fi hot spots that we are lending out for up to a month,” said Jesse Chance, the newly appointed assistant director of the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz. “They can hold up to 15 devices.”
Dempsey said that Highland is doing the same thing. “We have two hot spots, and we’ll lend them for as long as someone needs them, until we have another request. With all of the remote learning going on, we want to get the word out that we have these for our patrons.” Several libraries are also lending out laptops.
“Lending out hot spots has been very popular, especially during the pandemic,” said Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, executive director of the MHLS. “I think another thing that has emerged from the pandemic has been libraries lending their meeting platforms, and even hosting meetings for local governments, boards and organizations.”
Aldrich said that each library is unique in its offerings, but concurred that there are “so many different things that libraries lend. Some lend gardening tools, power washers, camping equipment, birdwatching kits; and the Phoenicia Library has an extensive and incredible collection of fishing poles, and even a fly-fishing app, which tells you what fly you need to catch a specific kind of fish. That library can set patrons up to go fly-fishing all weekend. Up the road in Pine Hill, they lend snowshoes! So, each library is unique to the community they service.”
She was quick to note that not all of the “things” are part of the interlibrary loan, but did say that as an organization, MHLS is trying to get the word out about hot spots and laptop-lending, as well as offering assistance to those who have questions and/or difficulty getting an appointment for a Covid-19 vaccine shot. “There are two things at work here,” said Aldrich. “This virus impacts those who are traditionally underserved, and those same marginalized individuals are less trusting of the information they’re receiving or not receiving. So, as libraries, we’re here to do what we always do: help people get access to trusted information.” With so many people who qualify for the vaccine either not having access to the Internet or feeling comfortable with navigating it, “The libraries are here to assist our residents. If you are having trouble scheduling a vaccine or finding information on it, we’re here. Call us.”
MHLS is even starting to partner with hospitals to host vaccination sites at the library. “Fifty percent of our population [in the MHL System] have library cards. That means that 50 percent do not, which is a large number of people in our community that we need to reach out to. We’ve been partnering with senior resident facilities and doing what we can to get access and information to everyone we can.”
Hopefully, now that there’s a touch of spring in the air, library patrons can make use of the various memberships and museum passes that their local libraries lend out. Highland and New Paltz both offer day passes (lending up to four for one cardholder) to go to the Mohonk Preserve. New Paltz also has membership passes to the Moriello Pool and Park. Highland stocks a host of museum passes, including ones for the Storm King Art Center, Dia:Beacon, Opus 40, the Museum at Bethel Woods and even “the New York City Transit Museum, which might not sound exciting, but allows visitors to go into the underground tunnels in New York,” said Dempsey, obviously a fan of this museum.
The Woodstock Library has plans, come spring, to lend out croquet and bocce ball sets for their residents to take home and enjoy with friends, neighbors and families.
Aldrich was also pleased to announce that the MHLS’ most recent acquisition has been more than 3,000 magazine e-subscriptions that their patrons can access. Whether your want to go fishing, grab a hot spot for that camping trip, borrow a Little Mermaid cake pan or Mohonk Preserve hiking pass, get help with scheduling a vaccine shot or simply find a new book to dive into, call or visit your local library (online for now). “The best place to start is always to start with your local library, which are all listed on our website,” said Aldrich. For more information, visit https://midhudson.org.