Op/Ed

Building the library of the future: Range of programs builds community

DANA HART, ILSLEY Public Library Director

Middlebury’s Ilsley Library offers so many programs it can be difficult to know where to start when describing them. As a general rule, the library strives to provide programs that increase knowledge of a subject; teach a new skill; build community connections; foster literacy and a joy of reading; or provide cultural enrichment, recreation or inspiration. Some programs are designed to have broad appeal, and some are designed to target specific groups (youth versus adult programs, for example). We try to make sure there is something for everyone.

I often describe the library as a community center, and programs that build community connections are an important part of that. There are a number of ongoing programs at the library designed to provide recreation and socialization for adults. For those inclined to learn and play games, there is a cribbage group and a drop-in bridge group that both meet weekly. For those already familiar with these games, the groups offer an opportunity to socialize and have fun. For those that have never played before, there is an opportunity to learn in addition to connecting with others.

For those with a desire to create, the Otter Creek Poets have been meeting weekly for over 20 years. For the book lovers out there, the library offers a monthly book club: Tome Talk with Renee. This book club is open to everyone, and the library supplies copies of the book, so there are no barriers to access. Finally, the Middlebury Classic Film Club meets monthly during the fall and spring to screen and discuss a film; as regular attendees will attest, the discussion is the best part. All three of these clubs were able to transition to remote or hybrid meetings during the pandemic, providing continuity and connection during difficult times. The transition to hybrid meetings also allowed these groups to grow in surprising ways: the Otter Creek Poets now have participants from Europe Zooming in regularly.

As you might suspect, people come to these programs for the books, poems or films, but they stay for the sense of community. Gathering with friends and neighbors is crucial to our well-being, but studies show that people are spending more time online and in isolation, leading to an increase in loneliness and depression. The Ilsley Public Library works to reverse this trend: The library is Middlebury’s living room, a space where everyone is always welcome and there is always a reason to drop by. Ongoing adult programs invite people in, providing an opportunity to engage with others and have some fun. Library programs enrich lives and forge connections, and the Ilsley Public Library’s well-attended programs are a testament to the value Middlebury places on community.

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