The Hippo


Aug 25, 2019








In 1938, the State Library extended its reach with a bookmobile, which traveled to New Hampshire’s rural towns. Courtesy photo.

Downloadable books

About 10 years ago, having a library card got even better, particularly if you have a smartphone or tablet. Just over 200 of the library’s 234 libraries have access to the New Hampshire Downloadable Books Consortium, which you can tap into via or the Overdrive app. The consortium allows card-holders to download eBooks and audiobooks at no charge. In addition, many New Hampshire libraries offer other downloadable book or streaming services; talk to your local library staff about what they offer.

Open Book
Summer read recommendations, plus a look at how far libraries have come

By Kelly Sennott

Today’s New Hampshire libraries aren’t the ones from yesteryear, manned by old maids sporting cardigans and horn-rimmed glasses, loud-whispering, “Shh! This is a library!”
They’ve transformed into community centers that offer programming for kids and adults ranging from yoga sessions to cooking classes. Many contain high-tech items like 3-D printers and lend out, in addition to books, things like snowshoes and musical instruments.
These Granite State libraries follow a history of trying new things. We house not only the United States’ first public library — the Peterborough Town Library — but also the first state library, which just turned 300.
To commemorate this birthday, Gov. Chris Sununu proclaimed 2017 “New Hampshire’s State Library Year.” Michael York, our state librarian and acting commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources, has been posting fun facts about state library history via Facebook and Twitter. He wants the anniversary to act as a launchpad for people to appreciate their own libraries. There’s a lot to celebrate.
“With the exception of tortoises, you don’t get a lot of 300-year anniversaries,” York said. “You still have a viable organization providing service to the community.”
NH’s library epicenter
The State Library is located in the heart of Concord next to the Statehouse, where visitors are greeted by a statue of three-term New Hampshire governor John Winant and a sign that states, The First State Library in America: Celebrating 300 Years.
Inside, the space still resembles the place voted into existence Jan. 25, 1717, by the 27th General Assembly. The main lobby displays portraits of Daniel Webster and Franklin Pierce, plus three “as built” drawings of the building when it first came to be. (Look closely, and you’ll see the two lamps by the fireplace are the same that stand there today.) The left side of the building used to hold the Supreme Court, but now it’s the genealogy room, regularly buzzing with locals looking up old census records. 
This building is the center of the universe for the state’s 234 public libraries. It contains 600,000 items, including books about New Hampshire or by New Hampshire authors or illustrators, newspaper archives, genealogy documents, government documents and library science materials. Staff provide library services to residents, scholars, visitors, elected officials and public librarians throughout the Granite State, plus workshops to keep librarians up to speed on the most cutting-edge aspects of library science.
“But our major responsibility, for a long time, has been to identify the holdings of the 234 public libraries and many of the academic libraries,” York said.
Sharing resources
Each community in New Hampshire has a library, which in York’s opinion, reflects the state’s “Live Free or Die” attitude. 
“There’s a sense of independence here in New Hampshire. And that, to an extent, is characterized by the fact we have 234 communities in New Hampshire, and we have 234 independent libraries with their own administration, their own board of trustees. Many other states have adopted either regional libraries or county libraries, or some variation on that,” York said.
But it can be a struggle for the state’s smallest towns, whose budgets are miniscule compared to those in big cities.
“Seventy-five percent of public libraries serve towns with fewer than 7,500 people,” York said. “Once you get outside the golden triangle — Portsmouth, Concord, Nashua — towns tend to be pretty small.”
One way the State Library tries to alleviate this issue is with its Interlibrary Loan van delivery service; if you want a book, CD or item not owned by your library, your librarian will effect a transaction to borrow the material from another library and have it delivered. 
In New Hampshire, drivers in white Chevy Express vans adorned with the State Library logo are on the road five days a week. Some, like Heather Brownell of Whitefield, have been at the job for years. Her day starts at 5 a.m., and her first stop is to pick the books up at the State Library in Concord, which are in recycling bin-like containers. Then she turns around and heads to North Country libraries.
Each day is different, involving sorting, meeting with librarians and handing over requested titles — which lately have included lots of James Patterson, Nora Roberts and, because it’s summer, kids’ books. The job hasn’t changed much since she began, but the volume has. She typically drives 1,300 miles a week.
“The North Country uses the program a lot because we have smaller libraries up here who can’t afford to buy the newer collections and new authors, and so the Interlibrary Loan program is really helpful for them,” Brownell said.
In November 2014, the State Library also initiated the MakerPlay program, circulating high-tech educational toys (like Snap Circuits and Dash and Dot, which teach circuitry and coding) and 3-D printers to libraries across the state via these vans. 
“There’s no way the state library could purchase 3-D printers for everyone, but this sparks a movement,” said Bobbi Slossar, technology resources librarian with the New Hampshire State Library, who thinks offering these items is important to meet modern-day patron wishes. “A few decades ago, you would never imagine going to the library to use a computer … to fill out a resume or do your taxes. The needs of the public continue to evolve, and it’s up to public libraries to really stay on those needs. … They’re looking for ways to expand their roles in the community and become hubs for innovation and technology.”
NH librarians
Sandy Whipple spent a recent Thursday morning building a Little Free Library with patrons in honor of this year’s summer reading theme: “Build a better world.”
“We’re kind of building a better world figuratively and literally here,” said Whipple, the Goffstown Public Library’s adult services and outreach librarian, during an interview at the Girls Inc. workshop, where card-holders were hammering, cutting and drilling — or learning how to. When finished, the structure would stand at the Liberty House and hold a collection of donated books passersby can take or add to. 
It wasn’t Whipple’s only day off-site that week; on Friday, she had to be at Hannaford for a presentation on the Mediterranean diet. 
“My job takes me all over the place,” Whipple said. “I might be partnering with Parks and Rec one week and doing a program on Alzheimer’s the next.”
Nicole Prokop, adult services and outreach coordinator with the Concord Public Library, also said it’s important to reach outside library walls; for example, her staff hosts Books and Brews the first Wednesday of the month at True Brew Barista. You’ll also find Concord librarians at downtown events like Market Days. 
“We understand that in today’s world, it’s not always realistic to expect community members to visit the library regularly for their information needs. So we do everything that we can to go out into the community, to go to the patrons rather than expect them to come to us,” Prokop said in an email. 
Today, New Hampshire librarians are event planners, directors, budget stretchers and tech-savvy, curious individuals. They need to be able to analyze information to direct the acquisition of materials and programming. Many positions require master’s degrees. And of course, they need to love books to give great book recommendations.
“One of the most important things is, they should be well-read and know what’s being published and what people are interested in,” York said.
Willing to experiment
Modern libraries are all about room for activities.
Walk into a New Hampshire library today, and you’re likely to find writing workshops, storytimes, classes on cooking or martial arts, concerts, cupcake wars, plays, puppet shows, makerspaces, film screenings, comic book festivals, TED Talk screenings, fencing demonstrations, juggling performances, hula hooping, mini golf — the list goes on and on. Presentations tackle every topic you can think of, from tiny houses and fake news to Bollywood and Robert Frost. Whipple said one of Goffstown’s most successful programs is its Human Library, in which people act as “books” and visitors can hear their stories when they “borrow” them for 15 minutes. 
“You have to always be open and willing to change directions,” Whipple said. “We’ve never been afraid to try something, and even if we fail ... we’ve learned something.”
The Granite State boasts a history of libraries trying new things. It created the first-ever public library in the United States — the Peterborough Town Library — in 1833. A 2012 study by the Institute of Museum and Library Services ranked New Hampshire first in library programming, visits and staffing per capita.
But one of the most modern changes to New Hampshire libraries is incorporating makerspaces into offerings; Slossar pointed to the Milton Free Public Library, which recently received a grant to build a MakerPlay room, and the Oscar Foss Memorial Library in Barnstead, which purchased Raspberry Pi computers to create a coding club. 
As a result, less space is allocated for printed books, though these items are still available online or via Interlibrary Loan. York said one of the most popular developments is New Hampshire’s Downloadable Books Consortium, through which you can download books or audiobooks on your phone or tablet.
The future
The most immediate danger to local libraries is not eBooks or Amazon, but funding in government budgets. The State Library in particular relies on the Institute of Museum and Library Services, from which each state received about $680,000, plus a certain amount based on population. York said the State Library’s piece of the pie typically equates to about $1.3 million; this is about half of its total budget.
All the money the State Library receives is used to enhance what happens at the local level. 
But York isn’t worried about libraries disappearing; they’ll just change, as they always have, to tap into what community members need most.
“In the mid-’80s, VCRs came in and took over home entertainment. What did libraries do? They got into the business of lending VHS tapes,” York said. “Libraries will always adapt to make sure they’re helping patrons get what they want, regardless of what format it’s in.” 


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