New Uses for Old Filing Cabinets: Libraries Changing with the Times

The libraries, they are a changing.

Most public libraries are offering much more than reading material these days.  While music and movies have been attractions for decades, libraries are adding more and more items patrons can borrow to their stores of books, magazines, and newspapers.

Like tools. Baking pans and fishing rods. And seeds.

According to an article in USA Today, libraries are diversifying their offerings, “fighting to stay relevant in the digital age.”

The library in Ann Arbor, Michigan lends three kinds of energy meters, and science equipment like oscilloscopes and microscopes. In Pima County, Arizona, the library has created a flower and vegetable seed library, employing the old card catalogue cabinets to hold packets.    xxx-pima-county-public-libr2-4_3_r541_c540

(Photo: Pima County Public Library)

My town library offers free eBooks, and lots of events to suit all ages, from children’s story hour to adult book clubs and classes.

The article about seeds and equipment reminded me of other unusual library offerings.

A small community center near where I lived outside of London sponsored a toy library. For a tiny (like 50 cents) fee, I could borrow some toys for a week or two and then exchange them for new ones.  It was perfect for babies who seemed to tire of a toy after playing with it a few times.

Both of my daughters-in-laws borrowed their wedding dresses from a sort of library found in Jewish communities known as gemachs. Originally formed to lend money without interest, primarily due to anti-Semitism, the concept has grown into a wide-reaching community service.  I accompanied one daughter in-law to the bridal gemach, a basement in a private home that held hundreds of dresses and accessories. For a minimal deposit to cover the cleaning costs, we selected a dress that she was able to have altered. My other daughter in- law borrowed Purim costumes from a gemach and I know their parents have visited gemachs to borrow baby equipment.  Individuals form a gemach based on their interests; and from what I can tell, there’s nothing you can’t find.

Perhaps libraries of the future will begin to offer more and more items that can be checked out with a library card.

As a reporter years ago, I covered one town’s debate about whether to build an addition to its library. People didn’t want taxes raised to pay for it. Some felt there was no need for more space.  The measure eventually passed, after several close town referendums.

Libraries as community centers seem to be one of the best uses for public funds.

Let’s hope they continue to thrive.

How has your library changed with the times?

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29 Responses to New Uses for Old Filing Cabinets: Libraries Changing with the Times

  1. Our library allows us to borrow DVDs and shows movies (free) on given afternoons. Right now, as we speak, they are showing “Flight,” starring Denzel Washington. It also rents free ebooks and books on CD ( there is a difference, right?). It has a bank of computers for people not owning their own. There always is a group of people busy at work on every computer at the table.
    The library is a wonderful resource for the community.


  2. Judy says:

    Fascinating topic! Our library hosts a variety of programs, lectures, youth events and a book club. As a resource center it is invaluable. And they could be even more, as you said.


  3. OmaOrBubby says:

    I love your points about the libraries evolving with added services and programs. So true! I always loved the extra things that libraries offered anyway, (storytime, shows for kids…etc) so now it’s becoming more important for them to offer those. The loaning services at your library and elsewhere (in Gemach’s) that you describe are so terrific and useful. I for one have a “gemach” in my home for people to borrow baby equipment for short and long term – car seats, pak-n-plays, high chairs,etc…Thanks for this post. All your posts are very interesting and provide lots of food for thought.


  4. mercyn620 says:

    Our library houses the local historical society and small museum. Two rooms are used for meetings, exercise classes, movie nights and children’s programs. Several computers are available for use.


  5. Great post! I go to the library to work/write, but don’t use it enough now that my kids are older. I love the book group kits though. They include a bin with up to 15 copies of a given book and discussion suggestions. Makes it easy and affordable for book groups to make everyone happy.


    • I just borrowed My Name is Mary Sutter from a book club kit bin. I’m not in any book clubs; though have been invited to join several over the years. Just not really for me.

      On Fri, Mar 8, 2013 at 4:07 PM, cyclingrandma


      • I started one that ran for 10 years, and I loved it… until it had really run its course. It ended nearly 2 yrs ago. Now I’m missing being in one and may start again. I enjoy the exchange of book ideas, having fun with reading together and the social end of it. The library kits really help when not all of the members want to buy books. It’s not for everyone, but I’ve really enjoyed it.


  6. Librarian here (although not working in a library.) This is a tricky one and I have mixed feelings as I feel the real purpose of a library is to disseminate information. Hate to seem old school. But wow seeds! I’m in!


  7. leazengage says:

    Very interesting. I like the new vision! My local library is still very traditional but that’s ok because I am a book lover from way back. 🙂


  8. esti wrotslavsky says:

    I loved this post! I love libraries and gemachs… so this feels custom made. A few months ago, I was in the main branch library in downtown Detroit, and was… …horrified? completely bemused? to see a real, live card catalog being used to store… Actual Cards! This architecturally masterful library and its card catalog are a great reflection of Detroit’s boom and bust.

    In Chicago, one kind family uses their garage as a gemach for moving supplies. When I moved, they supplied me with plenty of boxes and packaging tape, and some morale for the big job ahead of me. They, like many other gemach-runners, run it in the memory of a loved one.

    I never knew about money gemachs being run to help for anti-semitic reasons… I always just thought it was one guy with trying to help one guy without. Maybe I was too quick to buy into the concept that it’s always the Jews who run the banks…

    Thanks for the great post!


    • Thanks, Esti. I read your comment about the David Brooks article — very informative. I hadn’t read that about the gemachs being run in memory of someone- what a wonderful “living” tribute.

      On Fri, Mar 8, 2013 at 5:27 PM, cyclingrandma


  9. This is sad in away but hopeful. I love going to the library. I can’t wait for more time to go to the library. I try to go when I am off. .


  10. Libraries are also a great resource for people on fixed and low incomes!


    • Yes, another important point. They’ve been packed during the economic crisis with people using them as offices and for job hunting resources.

      On Fri, Mar 8, 2013 at 8:04 PM, cyclingrandma


  11. Colline says:

    That catalogue system I have not seen for many, many years. Our local library has recently been updated and is ultra-modern – we do not even need to see librarians to check out our books. A little sad as the human factor has been lost.


  12. Leah says:

    Let me say I’d love to get my hands on one of those card catalog cabinets for my house! The things I could use them for! Interesting post. I do see libraries changing quite a bit. Many of my local libraries are now offering programs and becoming destinations for activities for families and kids, rather than just places for book check-out. I actually took a gentle yoga class for free at one of my libraries. I like the variety and think it’s a great way to get people into a library without it becoming obsolete.


  13. Our little library is pretty traditional, but a few years back, I found out they loan out tubs of toys and books for young children. These toys are the open ended play type. I live in a rural county and we have a significant population around the poverty level and slightly above.


  14. Jean says:

    The seed packet collection is a great idea for recycling card catalogs. Or if one sewed a lot, put in buttons, sewing accessories in an elegant way, plus install wooden shelves between the legs for more stuff!

    I went through the first 12 years of my career using card catalogs. Then jockeyed between that and databases. Now it’s only databases for me.

    I am by formal training and career-wise a librarian. My job in past few years is electronic.

    Interesting the loan of wedding dresses. Great idea.


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