Written by: Megan Owens
As the digital world has expanded, libraries have worked to supplement their print collections with e-book access, audiobooks, movies, games, and other electronic media. But have you ever thought about the kinds of “non-traditional” things that people can check out of libraries? Some institutions have gone above and beyond the expectations for public libraries in fulfilling their community’s needs, however specific they may be.
Forget paper or e-books: in some libraries, you can actually check out a “human book!” Human books are volunteers who sign up to be part of a “human library,” where readers can peruse catalogs for brief descriptions of each volunteer, and then select their book and meet the person for a one-on-one conversation. People who volunteer as human books are often individuals with unique stories and experiences or are members of a group that is commonly stereotyped. By sharing their stories and conversing with readers, who are free to ask questions and compare experiences, the conversation can flow organically and readers can learn about different perspectives than their own. The human book concept began in Denmark, but has been picked up by libraries in the United States, such as Bainbridge Public Library and the Santa Monica Public Library (Wentz, 2013).
Like human libraries, some public libraries are even developing entire collections of non-traditional resources. The Sacramento Public Library, for example, has a “Library of Things” in their specialty checkouts section that is absolutely chock-full of objects patrons can borrow. On their website, they even acknowledge their own innovation with a blurb urging users to “take DIY to the next level with this collection of items no one expects to find at a library” (“Library of Things”). Some highlights from the catalog: bird watching kits, yard supplies, musical instruments (including turntables!), button makers, microscopes, cameras, induction cook-tops, and a myriad of games for all ages, among other unique and exciting items.
Yet other public libraries are tailoring the non-traditional approach to their specific user base. At the Alaska Resources Library & Information Services, patrons can choose from a huge collection of animal pelts, skulls, and taxidermy models available for checkout. Although users have to make a request in advance to borrow items from the collection, they can be reserved for a two-week period and are available for renewal, along with science kits provided by the Division of Wildlife Conservation in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (“Furs, Skulls, Birds and Fish Mounts”).
Even as individual libraries continue to cultivate their non-traditional collections to meet their patrons’ needs, it’s becoming more and more common for public libraries to provide some basic tools and recreational objects for users to borrow along with a book or movie. Household tools and gardening supplies, musical instruments, specialty cake pans, and a variety of board games are all becoming more common sights at public libraries. And as libraries continue to find new and innovative ways to support their communities, these resources will likely find space on the shelves alongside the other information resources and media that libraries traditionally provide.
Furs, Skulls, Birds and Fish Mounts. Alaska Resources Library & Information Services. Retrieved April 13, 2020, from https://www.arlis.org/fsbfm/
Library of Things. Sacramento Public Library. Retrieved April 13, 2020, from https://www.saclibrary.org/Books-Media/Specialty-Checkouts/Library-of-Things
Wentz, Erin. (2013, April 26). The Human Library: Sharing the Community with Itself. Public Libraries Online. http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2013/04/human_librar/