3 unusual and unexpected library services

We all know that libraries are more than books, more even than their collections. We expect public libraries to have children’s departments. We expect academic libraries to have reserves. We expect any library to have meeting space, programs, and Internet access, among other ways of serving their communities.

Since every community is different, and since every library staff comprises different mixes of talents, it should be no surprise when some libraries offer unusual services, services you won’t find at many other libraries.

Los Angeles Public Library

Los Angeles Public Library, Westwood Branch

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High school diplomas

You would expect a public library to have a strong presence in education. They all cooperate in various ways with the local school systems. Many libraries offer General Education Development (GED) courses for high school dropouts.

So far, only the Los Angeles Public Library actually offers an accredited high school diploma. The GED is issued to anyone who can pass a test. A diploma requires the completion of specific courses.

The library staff doesn’t actually teach any of the courses. The library¬†has partnered with Career Online High School, an accredited school based in Pensacola, Florida. Students take the courses online, but meet at the library regularly, both to receive assistance with any problems they have and to interact with the other adult students.

The students must pass an initial evaluation in order to join the program. Then they choose a career path before they can sign up for courses. That way they can choose electives especially suitable for getting specific kinds of jobs. The program has just started, so it is too soon to assess its impact on the community.

But it certainly makes sense for public libraries to offer high school diplomas. Libraries are among the most trusted institutions in the country. They have long been associated with education. No matter why someone may have dropped out of school, the library is an emotionally comfortable place to go without shame.

The Los Angeles Public Library is one of the largest libraries in the country. If this program is successful, look for the idea to spread.


Aerobics, Sacramento Public LibraryAerobics? Physical education? Why not?

Just because libraries have such a great reputation in the community doesn’t mean that everyone uses them. Libraries are constantly looking for innovative ways to get people in the door. Naturally, librarians turn to what is near and dear to them to get ideas.

Jessica Zaker of the Sacramento Public Library is a fitness fanatic. Besides pursuing her own workout routines, she is also a roller derby skater.  So she developed a program called Punk Rock Aerobics. Once a month for the past three years, she has led manageably small classes of people in their 20s and 30s through a workout routine.

Needless to say, the program is only suitable in community rooms that can contain the noise of the playlist and the instructor’s shouted instructions. The Sacramento Public Library has at least four branches with suitable spaces. Recently another librarian began a Zumba class at one of them.

Are other libraries likely to start their own aerobics programs? It depends on whether they have the staff to run it, a suitable space, and the support of the administration.

Meanwhile, plenty of libraries are offering equally unusual and unexpected programs to get people in the building. These visitors are more likely to return for more traditional services.

Printing fossils

3D printer output

Less fearsome output of the same brand of 3D printer

Now back to the quietness we expect from libraries.

The Paleontology Department of the University of Oregon has a 5 million-year-old fossil of a saber toothed salmon.

It is one of the prizes of the department’s collection, but it is too fragile for researchers to handle it very much. Putting it on display is out of the question.

So when the university’s Science Library acquired a 3-D printer, it lost no time in making a copy of the precious fossil. Using a CAT scan that preserved its exact measurements, library staff made a 3-D model.

The staff began by making less than full-size versions in order to determine if the printer could reproduce it in adequate detail. Once the printer had passed that test, the staff began work on a full-size replica of the seven-foot-long fish, which will require printing three different pieces.

Once the library has printed the model, the Paleontology Department can make an accurate cast without ever having to touch the fossil itself. The model will not be able to replace the fossil for advanced research purposes, but it will be good enough for display and such basic tasks as measurement.

Meanwhile, the library has already started preparing to print other fossils.

Once 3D printers become commonplace in libraries, expect library staff to help with other preservation projects in their own communities. After all, libraries have always been on the leading edge of adopting new technology and putting it to use to further their mission.

Los Angeles library to offer high school diplomas / KPCC, Southern California Public Radio
“I’ve never been so sweaty in a library”: programs that pop / Library Journal.
Fitness librarians pump up the Sacramento book scene / Sacramento Bee
University of Oregon Science Libraries back up fossils with 3D printer / Library Journal

Photo credits:
Library interior. Some rights reserved by jvoves.
Aerobics poster. Sacramento Public Library
3D printer output. Some rights reserved by kjarrett.

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