As libraries across New Jersey deal with dwindling membership, many of them are reinventing themselves in an effort to stay relevant within their communities. 

Libraries (Thomas Lohnes, Getty Images)

"With so much online now, libraries have undergone a transformation," said New Jersey State Librarian Mary Chute.

Despite the changes libraries have undergone, their mission remains the same, according to Chute. "To help people access information that they need to overcome obstacles and improve the quality of their lives."

Chute called librarians "expert information navigators."  She said while an online search engine could offer 2,000 responses to a question, a librarian will get the one, right one.

Libraries now offer a lot of products that work with popular technology, such as e-book readers.

"You can check out an e-book online and have it downloaded to your mobile device.  There are audio books, so if you have a long commute to work you can borrow CDs to listen to in your car," said deputy state library director Peggy Cadigan.

And libraries don't just house books these days.  Many also have current DVDs, computers, 3D printers, scanners, and knitting and embroidery machines.

"It's not your grandmother's library," Cadigan said.

Libraries also spearhead a lot of community-related programs that have a focus on helping individuals improve their lives.

On Oct. 6, the state library announced a new program that will allow adults to earn high school degrees through an online program. Public libraries in Scotch Plains, Trenton, Long Branch, Camden and Elizabeth will offer the program to start.  Nearly one in eight adults 25 or older in New Jersey does not have high school degree, according to the U.S. Census.

Some branches are designated "job-seeker libraries," according to Cadigan. Patrons looking for jobs can get help with online resources that can assist with resumes and cover letters. In addition, libraries offer a number of training programs that address a number of variety of current workforce issues.

Some libraries also have a program that assists former prisoners who are looking to find employment and rejoin their communities. The Fresh Start Re-Entry Program was created four years ago.

Libraries also assist the community during times of crisis. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, many libraries helped victims wade through FEMA claims, according to Chute.

Libraries also serve an important social function. "In this day in age where we can be more and more isolated from our neighbors, it's places where people come together for dealing with community issues," Chute said.

According to a survey from the Pew Research Center released in December 2013, 95 percent of Americans ages 16 and older agree that the resources and materials available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed.  In addition, 94 percent of those polled said libraries improve the quality of life in a community and 81 percent said people would have a hard time finding the services that libraries offer elsewhere.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.










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