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River Falls Public Library offers variety of free resources

October 12, 2016

Libraries are typically equated with books. At the River Falls Public Library, however, there is far more than that. Equipment, Wi-Fi and community events are all available to the public for free.

“What the library is,” said Library Director Nancy Miller. “Is lots of people putting a little tax money in, and then you have access to, through MORE, our consortium, over a million items. You put in your share, and you have access to all these things. And that is the point and the beauty of a public library.”

MORE (My Online Resources) is a collection of 49 libraries from across Western Wisconsin that share materials as one system. A library card from any one of them works at all of the others, and books or movies from any one can be ordered from or returned to any institution in the system. A few cities within the consortium include Baldwin, St. Croix Falls, Rice Lake and Eau Claire.

At the River Falls branch, there is a surprising wealth of resources. Books and DVDs are fairly common knowledge, but it is not as well known that the institution also offers equipment checkout. Its website shows a list, which includes (among many other items) DVD projectors, Chromebooks, screens, Kindles and Wi-Fi hotspots. The DVD projectors, said Youth Services Librarian Monica LaVold, are extremely popular; for weekend rentals especially, those wishing to borrow the projectors might have to reserve the equipment two months in advance. The rental is free, but usually involves a cash or check deposit that borrowers will receive back once the item is returned.

For those looking for something to do, the library is currently hosting an event series entitled Elementary, My Dear Watson, the purpose of which is to showcase the life and works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of “Sherlock Holmes.” Throughout the rest of this month and up until Nov. 14, the library will be organizing film viewings and book discussions themed around the famous author. Exact times and dates are posted online on the library’s website.

Elementary, My Dear Watson is one of many events that the library holds; almost year-round, they are organizing talks, discussions and movie viewings on a wide variety of topics. They cater to all ages, everything from toddler story time to Young Adult Books for Adults, and their goal, Miller said, is to foster a sense of community by connecting people through reading.

“You and I have never met each other, but if we’ve read the same book, we have a point of conversation,” she said.

Hailey Brant is a junior creative writing major at UW-River Falls, and although she no longer visits the public library often, she recounted fond memories of visiting the library during her childhood.

“When I was a kid I would bike to the library a lot just so I could have quiet time to myself,” Brant said. “It’s a space away from home that kind of allows you to explore what you like and the world of reading at your own place.”

Lately, Miller said, the library has been experiencing a decline in circulation of physical books and movies, although attendance has held steady over the years. A lot of people, she said, take advantage of the free Wi-Fi and the general quiet atmosphere at the library in order to study or work. There are also those who utilize the library digitally without ever stepping foot in it. According to the 2014 Public Libraries Survey from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, “the number of downloadable audio, video and electronic books available to the public grew significantly,” and there was an estimated 5 million more Americans attending library events and programs than in 2013.

Like the needs of the public, the library is changing.

“I don’t know that there’s any other organization in the world that, as part of their mission, their existence, their reason for being, is to be representative to the community,” said LaVold. “And that’s who we are.”