Libraries offering more than books

“Instead of a place being filled with books, we're more of a place where people can socialize."

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All that’s missing from the North Liberty Community Library is a fake brick wall back drop.

The facility will become a default comedy club at 7 p.m. Friday, July 26 when Kevin Kramis and Bill Hildebrandt present their standup skills and cap off the library’s adult summer reading program.

For Elaine Hayes, the free event – which she called “family friendly – is a chance to cater to mature readers. While the space has played host to authors and ghost hunters, it has never served as a default laugh shack.

“We try to do programming for adults to get them in the library,” said Hayes, the branch’s adult services librarian. “It’s really easy to get kids, their parents bring them. As people get older it’s hard to get them engaged.”

The silent space for reading and research is the identity of the past. The North Liberty branch has gradually evolved from the traditional library to more of a gathering spot for area residents, Hayes said, noting part of that makeover is due to its shared space with the North Liberty Community Center.

“I think that libraries are seeing that their role in their communities is starting to change,” she said. “Instead of a place being filled with books, we’re more of a place where people can socialize. We’re not a quiet library. We don’t shush. People come in and meet.”

“One of the reasons you’re doing all of the promotions is to share what the collection is,” said Maeve Clark, coordinator of adult services at the Iowa City Public Library. “We want people to use the resources in the library.”

Clark said turnout has been high for movie screenings, author readings and Civil War-themed events that incorporated music and well as lectures.

Amber Mussman, public information officer and adult programming coordinator for the Cedar Rapids Public Library, said she’s seen many libraries experiment with more unconventional events such as beermaking and winemaking to attract the over 18 set.

“The libraries’ goal is to engage the community and its citizens in some matter,” she said. “We do a variety of different things in that capacity so we become a community hub in that sense … We find a big sense of responsibility to do things that benefit the community.”

Mussman said she plans to do “surprising” programming, including “hands-on experiences,” once the downtown branch reopens in August. While those initiatives are not yet cemented, she listed crafts, a Scrabble club and The Salon Series quarterly author readings at Marion’s Campbell Steele Gallery, as events that have resonated with mature library patrons.

“In terms of attendance in programs, it’s always hard to engage people because there’s always so much going on and the hardest thing is getting through the noise,” Mussman said.

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