People in every age group use a plethora of electronic gadgets for education, entertainment, and relaxation. Children research schoolwork on computers. Teenagers listen to music on iPods; adults read books on tablet computers. Nearly everyone uses a smart phone.
It would seem that the public library would be irrelevant these days. But visit either the Web site or the Main Library or a branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library -- the home to more than 2.1 million books and periodicals -- and it's clear that no dust is collecting in its stacks.
That's true even during the summer months when many children and their parents enjoy the outdoors and a break from schoolwork. They make going to the library a vital part of summer vacation.
The summer reading club -- this year's theme is "Dream Big: Read" -- has been a pillar at the local library since the 1940s, said Margaret Danziger, deputy library director.
"The purpose is to keep young children reading through the summer, so when they go back to school, they have been reading all summer long," she said.
The local libraries serve nearly 20,000 local children in the summertime, when library personnel are on hand to coax youngsters to read for fun and entertainment, she said.
The library also draws teenagers and adults. One of the newer attractions for seniors is the Cybermobile, outfitted with 11 computer workstations so Lucas County elderly residents can obtain online training near their homes.
"It's a unique service that is fulfilling a need," Ms. Danziger said. "In one of the groups, the youngest person is 89 and the oldest is 98. The staff just loves them. They are picking up skills and picking up information they never heard about. We have more good stories about the excitement that people are having because they now have access."
The Kent Branch, 3101 Collingwood Blvd., which reopened in January, is the new public computer center. Anyone -- from children to the elderly -- can learn basic and more advanced computer skills there. Librarians also help patrons write resumes and cover letters and to identify what skills are necessary for various jobs.
"Some younger people get this in school, but not all of them," Ms. Danziger said about job-searching skills.
"The Internet is so big and confusing. Some information is still only in books," she said. "Young people are still drawn by books, and if they're doing genealogy and local history, they come to the Main Library and find information that is not digitized."
Part of the reason the library continues to draw school-age youngsters in the summertime is because so many of them became accustomed to going there at an early age.
"I think the kids also still like to come especially when they establish a habit of coming," Ms. Danziger said. "We don't test or score. The children find open access. It becomes a place for them that is comfortable and trusted."
Last year, the library circulated more than 7.2 million items, including books, DVDs, CDs, audio books, and more. Out of that figure, about 120,000 were ebooks and digital music materials. Also, about one-third of those 7.2 million items were circulated among children younger than age 17.
"While the electronic format is growing, it is a very small portion of our total circulation, which continues to be print materials, DVDs, and audio books and music," Ms. Danziger said. "We know that electronic formats will grow in popularity, but it is not an either/or between print and electronic: They will coexist."
The library circulated more materials between June and August, 2011, when school was not in session, than it did between January and March that same year, when school was in session.
Last summer, nearly 2 million items were circulated, while about 1.8 were circulated the previous winter.
Contact Rose Russell at email@example.com or 419-724-6178.