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BY THE WAY

We are all fortunate to have access to wonders of downtown library

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 12:01 am

There I was once again in the downtown library, thinking how very fortunate I am — how very fortunate all of our county is — to have this gem.

I had attended the annual meeting of the Friends of the Library at which I learned that during 2011 there had been 724 volunteers who had given us 23,130 hours. A note told me there were an additional 6,419 hours not included; they were from volunteers working on the Family History Archive Scanning project. And additional information recounted the kinds of services these volunteers provided — not particularly glamorous but essential in running a library: putting in barcodes, removing old labels, assisting technical services by working on sheets of corrections — and so much more.

I had already slowed down as I walked by the large, computer-filled room providing access to computers for the public. You know how easy it is to say, “Oh, look it up on Google” or “Turn to our Web page,” etc., only to stop to realize how many families do not have a computer in any form. There was a person at every computer except one, and a jacket was on that chair, so I suppose the occupant had gone to buy a cookie or some other goodie to keep his or her strength up.

Now I had reached the spot where books are for sale for 25 cents. Yes, one quarter. Or go all out and buy five for $1. Several people were checking out the available books and magazines. I spotted Harlan Coben’s “Long Lost.” I have never read any of his many books, but several of you have told me about him and how much you enjoy his writing, so I deposited my quarter in the box and brought Mr. Coben home so we can become acquainted. It’s on the honor system; that’s my library.

Of course I walked into the children’s department, such an enchanting haven. And I checked out the Jeff Krull Gallery. And I stood there looking down that long hall and looking up watching all the activity up there. I ignored the lower level this time, but you know there is a recording studio down there, among other things, and the public can sign up to use it. Of course there is a theater and there are meeting rooms and upstairs stacks and stacks and stacks of books. But oh, ye modern readers, you now also have access to e-books at our library. You can get a list of what is currently available and make your selection and then head for home with a lot of reading that doesn’t wear out your carrying arm.

Jeff talked to us about what was going on digitally. I find living in 2012 absolutely mind-boggling. My son takes a picture of a particularly lovely spot in his yard and sends it to my computer. He also regularly downloads music so he can hear his favorites any time. My daughter uses her phone to check a date on her calendar to see if we can schedule an event. My granddaughter is playing a game on her telephone.

I can get a comprehensive answer to a question just by typing in a few words on my computer — and the answer shows up on the screen within seconds. Planning a trip is now a piece of cake, and boarding passes are yours before you get to the airport. Want the words to a song? The BlackBerry will find them for you.

I don’t understand how any of this works. How can a chip, a tiny little thing, hold all this information? I said I find it all mind-boggling. Digitizing is actually something I can understand, and I understand how great a service it provides.

At the other end of the Great Hall lies the plaza where during the summer concerts take place, and hundreds of you come down to enjoy them. During certain hours tutors are available to help students with their homework. Forgotten the address where your grandfather lived when he first came to Fort Wayne? Go to where all those old city directories are kept; pick a year. There it is. Want to learn more about your family? Join the thousands who have availed themselves of our fabulous genealogy department.

I was pretty sure we have available a junior membership in the Friends of the Library, but I asked. We do. I think giving a youngster a membership is a wonderful gift. It makes him or her feel a part of that great institution and also teaches that not only can we use the many gifts it provides but we can also help support it. Of course, you’re a member, helping in many areas where tax money cannot be used.

Want a list? I can provide one. But I didn’t mean for this column to be a solicitation for membership. I only wanted to report on the tremendous thrill and joy I experienced once again at my library.

Writing about my wonderful branch would take another column. Oh, well, you get the message, don’t you?

Betty E. Stein is a retired teacher and member of the board of Friends of the Library.