“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls ... Come with me and you'll be in a world of pure imagination...”
We all remember the classic Roald Dahl tale. Willy Wonka sang to his eager guests as they entered his chocolate factory, their eyes wide with excitement about what was to come.
What if you could experience that same enthusiasm for something right here in your own community? You may not find chocolate there, but you could certainly learn how to make it.
A world of possibilities awaits at your local library, surely enough to score praise from Mr. Wonka. Where else can you get the scoop on the best places to visit in Greece, dive into the latest New York times bestselling novel, practice using a praxinoscope, play a virtual video game, take a class in web design, hold a pyrite crystal in your hand, or watch a movie entirely in French?
As Tim Boyle, branch manager for the Berkeley County Library on Daniel Island explains, today’s library is so much more than a “reading room” or just a place to check out books.
“We’re a community hub,” Boyle said. “…We think of ourselves as a resource for information. My degree is in information science. It's not just about checking out books, although that's what we mostly do. There's a sense in which we can act as a living algorithm. If you come in and say I want a good book, we can do the Amazon thing in our heads and say, well, if you like this and you like that, here's another one you're gonna like! That's an important part of it – getting to know our people.”
In fact, as the Berkeley County Library System’s tagline reports, there are plenty of ways to “get INFORMED, be INSPIRED, and ILLUMINATE your mind” when you visit one of the system’s seven branches – whether that’s in person or online. All you need is a library card – and, at least for the first month, you can get one of those without even leaving your house.
“We do offer online registration for library cards,” noted Gene Brunson, county library director. “That is a 30-day ‘get to know your library’ program. It gives full access to electronic resources, databases, newspapers, e-books, audio books, movies, and in some cases CDs or music as well.”
With the number issued to you for your card, you can access all of the BCLS free digital offerings, including a service known as “Hoopla” with more than 900,000 titles and resources, noted Boyle.
“You get the app and you register with your library card number, and boom you’re in,” he added. “And we always tell folks if they have any trouble…come on in with your device. Bring your iPad or your Kindle and we’ll make it work for you.”
The online databases are also safe for children and teens, who may be working on research projects.
“Imagine you go to a resort and there is an ocean,” continued Boyle. “It’s full of sharks and barracudas, but they’ve roped off a section and there’s a lifeguard. You’re safe in there – and that’s the way it is with the databases. They’re vetted. And if you’re writing a paper as a kid or doing research as a college student, there is a citation generator – the good old MLA format or Chicago style. You can pick it.”
On the BCLS website, you can also tap into information about specific titles you are interested in, and see when and where you can check out a physical copy. In addition to thousands of books, magazines, newspapers and other resources, BCLS branches also have computers, copiers, printers, telescopes, projectors, and even fax machines available. They also offer special literacy programs just for kids, such as “My First Book” for children up to three years of age (they receive a free starter kit), “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten” and weekly story times.
“One of the other things that we're adding, augmenting I should say, is what we call the juvenile-enabled audio books,” Brunson added. “What they do is the book ‘reads’ to the children as well, and that helps children learn to read on their own. Perhaps they need some encouragement with reading or they are getting to that age where they want to try it on their own…so that builds that foundation of literacy.”
Another addition is a new collection of books in Braille, noted Brunson. They’ve also started an automatic renewal program to allow users to keep checked out items longer, if they are not in demand. But certainly one of the biggest changes to BCLS services over the past year has been adapting to the COVID pandemic.
“COVID has definitely impacted our service and what we're able to do, as well as our customers,” said Brunson. “…So what we've done in response to that is pivot to virtual. Because we do have a lot of customers who have migrated over to the digital aspect, either because they are either in quarantine or have some apprehensions about venturing out in the public or whatever the case may be.”
At the Daniel Island Library, which remains open six days a week at 2301 Daniel Island Drive, posters of pre-COVID programs line the walls in Boyle’s office. They are reflective of times not so long ago, when patrons could gather to enjoy “Building a catapult,” “The
Ultimate Paper Airplane Showdown,” and an “Apollo 11 Space Party.” It’s been hard not to be able to invite groups back in for in-person activities, he said. But a good number of folks are still making their way to the library, while adhering to all mask and social distancing requirements.
“Here, we’re at about 60 percent of the usual (daily visitors),” added Boyle, who noted they are getting a little over 100 visitors a day, compared to 180 before COVID. “But our circulation is almost what it was.”
Despite their pandemic-related limitations with events, Boyle and his counterparts at the other BCLS branches remain eager to assist their customers in any way they can.
“We always have a way to get the information you’re looking for,” Boyle said. “We’re here for basically everything…I want people to understand, although we’re a small branch, we can get you what you need.”
So make plans to check out your local library. It certainly is a world of pure imagination – just waiting to be explored. To learn more, visit berkeleycounty.sc.gov.
BY THE NUMBERS
Card holders currently in Berk. Co, Library system - 87,663
Physical titles/items available in the BCLS collection - 470,540
Daily visitors to the Daniel Island Library - 100+