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Published: Monday, 2/6/2006

Libraries turn page to lure new users

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Zach Feasby, 9, tries to read as Nikki sniffs him at the Paws to Read program in Waterville. Nikki s owner is Mary Moser. Zach Feasby, 9, tries to read as Nikki sniffs him at the Paws to Read program in Waterville. Nikki s owner is Mary Moser.
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Just inside the towering white walls of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library downtown, a bright mural of Vitrolite glass welcomes visitors into a world of knowledge.

There are comfy chairs and enclosed meeting rooms to lure discussion groups and host story hours. Rotating displays of books and movies line the walls to entice patrons to pick up something new. And system-wide, more than 6 million books, videos, and audio cassettes were checked out last year alone.

But newly built teen centers in the main and branch libraries remain only sporadically used.

And a population of 62 million strong nationwide, Baby Boomers that storied generation born from 1946 to 1964 are not crawling the halls. And where are the boys?

These are the people who have eluded the Toledo-Lucas County system, said Margaret Danziger, deputy director.

The only way to get them in is to create a library specifically for them, and specialized programming to attract specific target groups is a growing trend at libraries around the country. No longer places where just books line the shelves and librarians repeatedly shush children, libraries in northwest Ohio, southeast Michigan, and around the country have become centers of activity, organized with intentions of attracting those who are otherwise not using them.

It s a universal challenge to continually think of new ways to attract customers into the library, said Doug Evans, executive director of the Ohio Library Council. Each library is doing something different to attract their specific demographics.

For the past decade, the local library system has been devoted to renovating and replacing its buildings a project made possible by a 10-year, $38.6 million bond issue approved by voters in November, 1995.

Work was done at all 18 branches and the main library downtown.

When the last of the buildings went under construction, Mrs. Danziger said it was time to return the staff s focus to the patrons. For the Baby Boomers, with 98,000 in Lucas County, that means reintroducing them to what the library already has to offer.

Rebecca Booth said she knew everything there was to know about creative marketing.

But when the 48-year-old Genoa resident decided to start her own company about seven years ago, she realized she knew nothing about running a business.

She turned to the local library to help her.

Ms. Booth, who was eventually hired by the library to help with its Baby Boomers marketing campaign, said now she not only uses the library for information, she goes there for inspiration. Library officials hope others will follow her through the doors.

Getting attention

Brightly colored flyers showing a game board guiding Baby Boomers through their library is a part of the Toledo-Lucas County library s new marketing strategy. Highlighting services that the library already has computer classes, volunteer opportunities, and the Authors!Authors! speaker series the program will try to appeal to the Boomers draw to technology and a desire to volunteer.

I don t think people recognize all the things that are available, Ms. Booth said.

They think, It s fine for my kids and my grandkids, but there s nothing there for me. I think we just forget about [the library].

That may be the same problem keeping teenagers from the scores of books, CDs, and DVDs that are now stocked in the library. In fact, after much research, Mrs. Danziger is ready to bring in more teenage-oriented items including the popular Xbox video game machines in a proposed new teen center, slated to be constructed sometime this year.

In 2003, Lucas County voters approved a new 1-mill operating levy to raise $7.8 million a year to pay for about 49 percent of the library s operating expenses.

The rest of the money comes from the state. A teen center would be paid for through a building fund the library maintains.

Nobody was using it, she said of the existing teen area at main library. We have this whole teen library but nobody was there.

Dominique Savage knows she s not a typical teenager. A student at the University of Toledo Early College High School, the 14-year-old Toledo girl said she works at the Main Library s computers almost every other day.

But she doesn t see many others her age reading and researching in the library on a daily basis. Instead, most teens are like Toledoan Arturo Coon, 17, who drops in the main library on occasion to use the Internet and often leaves after finding all the terminals being used.

A fan of video games and movies, the Phoenix Academy charter school student said he would likely use the library more if he felt there was more for him.

Special programs

In the Wood County District Public Library in Bowling Green, staff renovated an area to give teens a place to relax and even yes, they mean it be noisy and a place where they can find movies specifically for them.

The staff continues to offer specialized programming, including a program on the popular movie Napoleon Dynamite slated for Saturday, said Kathy East, head of children s services.

It s like [librarians] finally caught on to what bookstores are doing. They are making the libraries much more friendly to kids and adults, said Pam Spencer Holley, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association.

In Princeton, N.J., the focus of the community library has been on creating programs as diverse as our community, said director Leslie Burger, who is the president-elect of the American Library Association. That means offering programs in Japanese, Spanish, and French, as well as citizenship classes.

Locally, Toledo-area residents can pick up books in Spanish, and often there are programs focusing on African-American writers, said Susan Gibney, marketing manager for the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

Because library officials feel they are already reaching out to minority patrons, the library is not currently working on a specific targeting program, she said.

The Monroe County Library District, which has 16 branches, has programs focusing on the famous wizard Harry Potter and the wildly popular anime, a style of animation originating in Japan, have helped pique the interest of young adults.

Libraries are also hosting chess tournaments and will wipe out fines for those willing to donate $1 to a local charity.

The boy factor

We re busier than ever before, I can guarantee you, said Nancy Bellaire, Monroe s assistant director. We ve expanded our hours. We ve expanded our staff. But we re trying to think, Who are we not getting? Who could we attract in different ways?

In many library systems, that missing who is a boy aged 7 to 10 years.

In Bowling Green, librarians are suggesting books to boys in that age group and their parents. Books, for example, like a biography of a favorite sports hero.

In Toledo, a committee will be established to bring the library to the boys level one filled with games, sports, and perhaps even a little bathroom humor, including all things gross.

I think boys are a challenge for all communities.

They are a tough audience because they are distracted by other things such as sports and unfortunately, they don t find reading cool, said Mr. Evans of the Ohio Library Council.

But libraries are very much getting into niche marketing now.

Mr. Evans said the whole image of the library has changed dramatically from the whole stereotype of that quiet reading room where children and teenagers were shushed.

Now when you walk into a library, he said, they are fun, open, welcoming places where there are exciting programs. Librarians are making sure that the services the taxpayers are being asked to fund are being used.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-724-6076.



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