Keys To The Whole World: American Public Libraries
3:34 pm
Tue August 13, 2013

Beyond Books: Libraries Lend Fishing Poles, Pans And People

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 5:31 pm

What's the point of a library in the digital age? It's a question that makes librarians bristle. They are quick to remind you that they are not just repositories for printed books and DVDs. Regular patrons know this, but public libraries want to reach beyond the faithful. To that end, many librarians are finding creative ways to get people through the doors despite their limited resources.

Take the Honeoye Public Library near Rochester, N.Y. It's one of a handful of branches in New York that lends out fishing poles — yes, those things you use in the great outdoors, far away from bookshelves. Wendy Krause, the library's director, says the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation provides the library with eight poles, and the local Fish and Game Club gave funding for tackle boxes. "When a customer takes out a fishing pole, they get a little tackle box with some backup hooks, and sinkers and that kind of thing," says Krause. For bait, she recommends the gas station across the street.

So how do fishing poles fit a public library's mission? Krause says its job is to inform and enlighten, but also to connect its patrons with the community. The Honeoye Library is in the Finger Lakes region, where you can fish year-round, so this is a way for the library to speak directly to the people they serve, where they're serving them.

Other libraries try to bring people in simply by offering things they might need around the house, like toys, pots and pans, tools — and even humans.

"There are people in the community who say, 'I'm an expert at electronics or plumbing. So put me in the catalog,' " says Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association. She says locals tell libraries, " 'If somebody has a question that I can help answer, they can check me out.' "

Libraries that are loaning out people often refer to them as "human books." Sometimes they even leave off the word "human," and give them catalog numbers.

These human books can go beyond the practical and into the realm of world peace — well, at least neighborhood peace. The Human Library: What's Your Prejudice? is an international program that encourages dialogue between people of different backgrounds and beliefs. "Public librarians have contact with all walks of life," says Amy Greer, who coordinated a Human Library event at the Providence Community Library in Rhode Island. "So we created an application, and we approached people we see every day."

They came up with a collection of 40 human books. Among the stories, says Greer, "Refugee ... woman with a face deformity ... ex-felon." Over 200 people browsed the catalog and checked out books. "Then they would go and sit down with that person for 20 minutes for a one-on-one conversation ... They could renew one time if they wanted, so it could become a 40-minute conversation. And they would just have a dialogue," says Greer.

The Human Library, she says, is just a different way for library patrons to have what could be a transformative experience. Instead of reading stories, they're hearing them from people in their community, firsthand, face to face. The Providence Community Library is planning another Human Library event next year. If it goes as well as the first one, Greer says they'll consider loaning out humans on a regular basis.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

At its core, a library's mission is to make information available, and creative librarians may take full advantage of the fact that information doesn't only come in the form of words. We've been hearing this summer about the role of libraries in American life.

And today, NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports on some of the more unusual ways libraries get people to walk through the door.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Public libraries have big mandates and limited resources. So to do more with less, they don't always go by the book. In upstate New York, for example, you can go fishing, thanks to the library.

WENDY KRAUSE: We have eight poles.

BLAIR: Wendy Krause is the director of the Honeoye Public Library near Rochester. It's one of a handful of branches in New York that lends out fishing poles. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation provides the poles, and the local Fish and Game Club gave the library funding for tackle boxes.

KRAUSE: So that when a customer takes out a fishing pole, they get a little tackle box with some backup hooks and sinkers and that kind of thing.

BLAIR: Krause says you can buy bait at the gas station across the street. So how do fishing poles fit a public library's mission? Wendy Krause says their job is to inform and enlighten but also to connect their patrons with their community. The Honeoye Library is in the Finger Lakes region, where you can fish year-round. So this is a way for the library to speak directly to the people they serve, where they're serving them. Other libraries have tried to bring people in simply by offering them things they might need around the house, like toys, pots and pans, tools.

BARBARA STRIPLING: You can check out a human from some libraries.

BLAIR: Excuse me?

STRIPLING: Check out a human.

BLAIR: Barbara Stripling is president of the American Library Association.

STRIPLING: There are people in the community who say I'm an expert at electronics or plumbing and so put me in the catalog. And if somebody has a question that I can help answer, they can check me out.

BLAIR: Libraries that are loaning out people refer to them as human books. Sometimes they even leave off the word human and give them catalog numbers. Some libraries are affiliated with an international program called The Human Library: What's Your Prejudice? that tries to get people from different backgrounds and beliefs talking to each other.

Amy Greer coordinated a human library event at the Providence Community Library in Rhode Island.

AMY GREER: Public librarians have contact with all walks of life. So we created an application, and we started approaching the people that we see every day.

BLAIR: Greer says they came up with a collection of 40 human books.

GREER: So we had refugee. We had woman with a face deformity. We had an ex-felon.

BLAIR: Over 200 people browsed the catalog and checked out human books.

GREER: And then they would go and sit down with that person for 20 minutes for a one-on-one conversation. They could renew one time if they wanted, so it could become a 40-minute conversation, and they would just have a dialogue.

BLAIR: Greer says it's just a different way for library patrons to have what could be a transformative experience. Instead of reading stories, they're hearing them from people in their community firsthand, face to face.

The Providence Community Library is planning another human library event next year. If it goes as well as the first one, Greer says they'll consider loaning out humans on a regular basis. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.