In Fredericksburg, using your “library voice” might mean giggling with delight or cheering a video game victory.
That’s because, in the words of youth services coordinator Darcie Caswell: “The Central Rappahannock Regional Library system has always focused on keeping up with the needs of our customers. Over time, that has evolved to offering different kinds of technology, classes, events and activities, including educational games and wireless Launch Pads for children, preloaded with e-books and games with a variety of themes.”
Special offerings for children and families include summer Fun Fests held at each of the branches, and the events this August will be super-sized in celebration of the library system’s 50th anniversary.
Festivities will include games, activities, crafts and refreshments, and a number of branches will include an inflatable bounce house, DJ music, a touch-a-truck experience with a fire engine and face painting. In addition, community organizations have been invited to provide an introduction to their services and activities, ranging from local dance and taekwondo studios to historical associations and conservation groups, such as the Friends of the Rappahannock. Representatives from state parks as well as early-education resources such as Smart Beginnings will also be attendance.
The first circulating library was established as early as 1822, with an annual $5 fee for users and, since that time, public library options have continued to expand. The creation of CRRL in 1969 was a major milestone.
“The biggest advantage of connecting libraries across several counties is that it allows us to share resources,” said Caswell. “I hope that, for families who aren’t yet familiar with the library, the birthday celebrations will be an opportunity to see that libraries are welcoming and fun places for people of all ages. They are places where you can come in and explore and have a spectrum of opportunities to meet your needs and interests. Our classes and events don’t have any limits, and there is no ticket to come in the door.”
Current offerings include Maker Labs at various branches that have 3-D printers and scanners, as well as a Mobile Makers Lab. “Some have sewing machines and digital drawing screens and we offer classes in everything from baking to making different types of videos. Our Maker Labs are great examples of how the libraries have evolved with the needs of the community,” said Caswell.
For preschool children and early readers, the libraries have developed a spectrum of daytime classes for various age cohorts from ages 0 through 5, such as Mother Goose, Toddler Time, Alphabet Soup and Preschool Time. To meet the needs and schedules of working parents, sessions called Saturday Tales and Books Before Bedtime are offered (pajamas welcome).
“We are also excited to offer several classes for people with special needs that we launched during the past year, including a Sensory Time Grow-a-Reader class for children with autism and other special needs who are at a preschool developmental level, and Creative Minds for those at an elementary school developmental level,” said Caswell.
A number of the branches have also designated special spaces for different age cohorts. Learn and Play rooms are geared for ages 5 and under and feature educational toys and spaces to practice their large motor skills. Areas dubbed “Teen Space” or “Teen Lounge” offer a gathering place for doing homework after school, playing video games and hanging out with friends. In addition, online offerings for families now include a streaming video service called Kanopy and a video training program, Lynda.com, which offers software programs that range from playing musical instrument to developing spreadsheets, photo editing and video editing. Visitors can also schedule a session with a staff expert on specific areas of interest through the libraries’ Training on Demand offerings.
Throughout the past five decades, the libraries have continued to grow and evolve and the staff have met challenges such as budget cuts with their hallmark can-do attitude, including innovative offerings such as adventure packs for families with theme-related books, exploration tools and tips, which require minimal staff time. With lighthearted perseverance, a crew of librarians once produced a music video during one tight financial time dubbed “We Will Survive,” which became an international hit.
“Both our leadership and staff are committed to offer the community the highest level of service that we can,” said Caswell. “Our customers are always at the top of our priority list.”