Forest Park residents can check out everything from laptops to speakers to a mini keyboard and synthesizer, for no cost, through the Forest Park Public Library’s latest pilot program. It is the most recent adaptation for a library that continues to evolve to meet its users’ needs.
The 21-item “gadget collection” sprang from the COVID-19 pandemic, when the library, like much of the rest of the world, responded to a more online reality in which access to technology, especially things like computers for school-aged kids and video connectivity for older adults, became a crucial part of day-to-day life.
So, in July of this year the library rolled out what it calls its gadget collection — a mix of technology that includes tablets, laptops, a projector screen, webcams, portable DVD and Blue-Ray players, a digital camera, a light therapy lamp, a media hub, power bank, Bluetooth speaker, synthesizer, microphone, audio recorder and even a boombox — and the response so far has been a resounding thumbs up.
“It’s been popular, for sure,” Amilcar Perez, an adult services and outreach librarian who manages the collection, said. “There’s the impression of, ‘oh, I didn’t know that this was here. This is amazing.’ And I think that illustrates the concept of a library as larger than what is regularly perceived.”
“The library mission has expanded a great deal in the past decade, and I think part of what we do is help people access information and resources; really the key word being access,” Pilar Shaker, the library’s director, said. “This is just another way that we can support research, exploration and access so that people in our community can further their personal and professional goals.”
“We also learned during the pandemic that we can’t assume what kind of access people have to technology,” she said.
To Perez, who was leading many of the library’s technology-based programs before the pandemic began and who still conducts 1-on-1 tech consultations for those who need help, the gadget collection hits on several of the library’s core purposes, including giving patrons the tools necessary to succeed in the current world. That could mean anything from giving computer access to a job seeker who needs to apply online to providing technology for a student to achieve success in the classroom.
But a piece of the gadget collection is a focus on fun, too, and making gear available to Forest Parkers who could not otherwise afford to buy the sometimes-expensive technology.
“Why would somebody need to buy a gadget if they can check it out at the library and try it out,” Perez said. “Or if they are going to use it once.”
In one of the more creative examples Perez cited, a group of people decided to check out a mobile theater kit that lives among the collection this summer, and used the projector, screen, speaker and tripod to set up a private outdoor screening of the Opening Ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics.
The initial financing for the gadget program came from the library’s operating budget and both Perez and Shaker said the program will be reassessed before it reaches its final form, but Shaker said the program is “not a pilot in the sense of I think it’s going to stay.”
“I can walk past the shelving display and see that it’s been two-thirds checked out since we initiated the program,” she said. “I think what we’re looking to learn from this pilot phase is what exactly our community wants to check out from the gadget collection … as we learn and get feedback from people, or see what is or isn’t circulating, we can tweak those things and customize the collection to what is attractive to the community.”
The success, and potential growth, of the gadget collection could also serve to expand the library’s reach, attracting a person to the building who otherwise might not be interested in browsing the hardcover books available there. And once someone begins to explore the library, Perez and Shaker believe they can open peoples’ eyes to the entire array of programs and items that are available.
“Any project or program that we do that captures a non-users’ attention, especially if it’s one that brings them into the library, is helpful in that sense,” Shaker said. “Even if they don’t find another thing they’re attracted to … that’s why we are constantly trying to do new programs and have new collections even if people aren’t asking us for those things.”
More information on the library’s gadget collection, including an online catalog, can be found online at fppl.org or at the library itself, 7555 Jackson Blvd. in Forest Park. The gadget collection is currently available only to Forest Park residents.