Libraries go beyond books

  • At the Howe Library after taking the winter themed bags Denise Reitsma, left, head of youth services and Kate Root, library assistant put out the warm weather activities backpacks on Thursday, April 25, 2019 in Hanover, N.H. Some of the backpack themes are bugs, night sky and rocks. Root is the creator of the backpacks. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • A telescope and a badminton set are in the cool stuff collection at the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon, N.H., on Thursday, April 25, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • At the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon, N.H. you can sign out an octopus kite as part of their cool stuff collection on Thursday, April 25, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/26/2019 9:49:20 PM
Modified: 4/26/2019 9:49:10 PM

When you want to reread To Kill a Mockingbird, your local library is a logical destination. But what about when you want to identify the bird you keep hearing outside your bedroom window?

Turns out, your library might be able to help you with that, too.

In addition to movie streaming services (see related story) libraries in the Upper Valley offer a long list of items beyond books, ranging from the scholarly to the sporty, the commonplace to the quirky.

Bird enthusiasts in Hanover can check a birding kit out of the Howe Library’s “Expand Your World” collection. It includes binoculars and an electronic bird call identifier. Patrons who want to update their media collections can borrow a VHS-to-digital conversion kit or a vinyl-to-digital conversion kit. And library cardholders with a bare wall in need of some color before that big dinner party can take home one of 150 framed art prints.

The prints, which include works by well-known artists as well as local award winners and can be checked out for six weeks, have been a big hit with patrons, said Pam Smith, the library’s head of technical services and systems.

Also popular at libraries around the region: telescopes, ukuleles and, as anyone who has kids to entertain during school break probably knows, free and discounted passes to area museums.

“The passes are always in high demand,” said Amy Thurber, director of the Canaan Town Library, which offers passes to Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, The Fells in Newbury, N.H., and several other destinations.

“When Billings has Baby Animal Day, forget it,” she said.

The Canaan library also lends out knitting needles, rubber stamps for making cards and crafts and a variety of board games. In 2014, with funding from the Friends of the Library, it introduced “caboodle” kits, each of which contains materials for a different activity such as origami or outdoor fun. Some of them have been checked out nearly 20 times, Thurber said.

Along with resources to keep kids busy, physical items seem to be among the most popular offerings at libraries.

The Lebanon Public Libraries’ “Cool Stuff Collection,” which began about five years ago with a push from the New Hampshire Astronomical Society to get telescopes into libraries and has expanded rapidly since then, includes a variety of useful tools such as a sewing machine, a laminator and a power washer.

“Our power washer is rarely in,” said Amy Lappin, deputy director of the Lebanon libraries.

High-tech tools and gadgets — a metal detector, a trail camera, a Go-Pro camera, a virtual reality viewer for cellphones — also get circulated heavily, Lappin said, as do unusual items such as a theremin, an electronic musical instrument you can play without touching.

Lappin was a bit skeptical about that one at first, but it, too, has been a hit.

At the Windsor Public Library, gardeners can check out packets of non-GMO seeds from the seed library. In the fall, they’re encouraged to let a couple of the plants go to seed and bring those seeds back to the library.

Handmade pottery bowls are available to patrons of the Tunbridge Public Library. Introduced as part of an art exhibition in 2015, the four sets of bowls are made by local artists and come in a sturdy wooden box, along with a journal for recording what they were used for.

While they haven’t exactly flown off the shelves, the bowls offer a little something special for the community, library Director Jean Wolfe said.

Such unconventional collections also help expand people’s ideas about what a library can be.

“We feel like the more things we can offer to get our citizens in the door, the better,” Thurber said. “We like to say we’re like the living room of the community.”

Sarah Earle can be reached at or 603-727-3268.

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