By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Most libraries are tucked away on a side street in sleepy towns and are as quiet as a church before the pastor begins his sermon. The Ocean City Public Library couldn’t be further from the old stereotype of a town library.
Karen Mahar, who is in her second year as the library’s director, said that libraries are so much different than they were 20 or 30 years ago. And they have to be, she said. A library has to be able to evolve with the times in order to remain a useful part of a community.
“We’re a busy library. For a lot of reasons, libraries have had to evolve or go extinct. We have to keep up with technology. We do computer classes in excel and social media, we’re hooked up with ACCC, we do QuickBooks and a lot of things like that. We also offer e-books through our website,” Mahar said. “Some libraries have seen their circulation go down, but ours has gone up. We have a lot of beach readers, a lot of retired people. We’re a very literate community, as I always say. We also loan Kindle E-Readers and Wi-Fi boxes, and that’s great for travel. Another thing we’ve done is a lot of adult programming, everything from book clubs — we furnish about 12 books clubs that utilize our services, and that’s a lot for a small community — to musical programs to art and sign language classes.”
The Ocean City Library has a sizable staff, employing 16 people full time and another 25 as part-timers. The library also has 10 professional librarians. Becoming a professional librarian requires a Master’s degree in library science.
“You have to evolve into what people want, which is providing technical services and training for computers. And I think it’s also a community thing. It’s not about just having books anymore, people come here for different programming, it’s a place to bring kids. I think you just have to keep up with the times. My staff and department heads are constantly thinking of what we have to keep up with. We’ve done a lot of advertising and that’s been successful. A lot of people see the advertising, and we try to stay in the schools as much as possible. We try to make them see that it’s a cool place to be. It’s not like the old days,” said Mahar, whose son, Victor, is a football player at St. Augustine Prep. “We have an awesome staff, so I’ve been very lucky with that, and we have a very supportive board of directors. It’s a challenging job, but I’ve been very lucky. We have a great IT department and they always keep us on the cutting edge of what’s going on. There’s a lot going on here. If you’ve never been here on a summer day, it’s crazy. A rainy day in the summer, forget about it, we’re jammed.”
Mahar said the library staff make a conscious effort to connect with middle school and high school students in an effort to inform them about all the library has to offer and get them excited about not only the programs offered, but the technology that is being used. The library has an informative website (oceancitylibrary.org) that features a newsletter, databases and guides, and people can also text a question directly to library staff. There’s an app available, as well as a program called “Hoopla” that allows people to download movies and music, and a tutoring service for students. Library staff also actively engage students to find out what kind of things they would like to have available.
“We get a lot of kids from the intermediate school and there’s a lot more interaction with the high school kids than you might think. Our young adult librarian has a group called ‘Connect’ that meets to discuss things they’d like to see at the library. We try to bring young adults in and get them into things they aren’t used to or need to know about. Our reference department is awesome and we have so many databases that are free to them if they have a card, and some you can even access through our website. Everything from job searches to resume writing. We also have a career consultant and she does free workshops,” Mahar said. “Tutor.com is something we do as kind of a joint thing. Our library is part of a coalition of libraries, and we get together and share resources. It’s a live tutor that high school kids can use for any questions they might have. We do a lot of cooperative things with the high school and we partner with the schools on wetlands education.”
Library staff are doing everything they can to connect with the young people in Ocean City and surrounding communities, even partnering with local police as well as the fitness center housed in the same building as the library on Simpson Avenue to create programs that get young adults active, learning and socializing.
“We started, in conjunction with the fitness center and the police department, Fridays With Friends, which targets the high school kids. We do it here and at the civic center, and that’s been very successful,” Mahar explained. “We open the pool, we’ll do a movie, have game nights. And we’ll do stuff at the civic center that is more geared toward sports. We’re trying to keep ourselves out there in the forefront.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN