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Libraries are going way beyond books

Tank, a 9-year-old standard poodle, makes an attentive

Tank, a 9-year-old standard poodle, makes an attentive audience for 9-year-old Samantha Jackel, who’s taking part in an East Meadow Public Library program pairing young readers with canines. ( April 20, 2012) Credit: Linda Rosier

In a bright, spacious and glossy-floored room downstairs at the Plainedge Public Library, several women -- most in their 60s and 70s -- have gathered for a midweek Zumba class.

Angela Trop, the instructor, calls out, "You're ready ladies?" and switches on recorded music.

A thumping disco beat sets the pace for a vigorous 45-minute fitness workout that mixes body-toning moves with the various tempos and rhythms of salsa, soca, hip-hop and reggaeton music.

"I've been doing Zumba since last summer," said North Massapequa resident Pattiann Stallone, who is a clerk in the Farmingdale school district. "I love the exercise, the music, the instructor. I would love to do it twice a week. It's just a wonderful idea."

Trop agrees. "It's great that the libraries are doing this," she said.

They're doing that and much more: sleepovers in the stacks, tap dancing and Chi Gong, plus yoga, sign-language instruction and reading sessions with certified therapy dogs.

 

Spicing it up

Plainedge's Zumba program is among new and unusual offerings added in the past few years that are fulfilling the wishes of patrons and attracting greater participation there and at other Long Island libraries. While literacy classes, storytelling, lectures and other standards remain, libraries are spicing up their services to keep pace with changing times.

"Libraries have offered innovative programming for a long time, but I think more and more, in a lot of communities on Long Island, the library is becoming the community center," said Elizabeth Olesh, assistant director of the Nassau Library System, which has 54 libraries.

"There's been a lot of changes in demographics," Olesh added, "families moving in as well as older adults looking for opportunities in their communities. People have a lot of issues with employment, so a lot more people are looking for interesting things to do that don't cost a lot of money. Libraries are responding to that."

At the Patchogue-Medford Library, high school honor students help younger students with their homework in the Study Buddies program. A play group for parents and their children "is growing in popularity," said Marilyn Kappenberg, director at the Plainedge library.

The library's calendar includes yoga and low-impact aerobics. Zumba was introduced about a year ago at the request of patrons, added Kappenberg, who teaches sign-language classes in the summer.

At a "Night of Storytelling" event in March, school superintendents and librarians joined library patrons and local residents to act out a story they chose.

"It brings the community into the library," Kappenberg said. "It's more of a community center that we're becoming in hard economic times."

 

Special needs served here

A popular offering at some libraries is geared toward shy or special-needs students who are reading below their grade level. To help boost their proficiency, the program provides trained and certified therapy dogs for the children to read to. At the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Public Library, it's called "Dog Tales" and has been offered for two years. The Friday afternoon readings attract mostly first- through fifth-graders for the 15-minute sessions.

"We tried it, and the response was overwhelming," said Barbara Grodin, children's librarian. "They sit one-on-one with the dog and its owner; they pet the dog and read out loud to them. It's very relaxing for them. These dogs just lie there; it's great!"

Margaret Dubitsky, a retired Mastic Beach special-education teacher, has provided golden retrievers for the program, called "Dogs on a Couch," at the Manhasset Public Library.

"No one's judging them," she said of the readers. "The younger kids really think the dog can read. Most of the children have improved greatly in their reading. It's one of the nicest programs the community offers. It's free, and a lot of libraries are doing it."

Jude Schanzer, head of children's services at the East Meadow Public Library, started the program there with two standard poodles, therapy dogs of her own.

"We have about seven dogs on call," she said. "Many parents love the program. They bring their children every week."

Children can choose the dog they want to read to and the book. Selections include "Wimpy the Kid," "Elephant and Piggy" and "SpongeBob SquarePants."

"We've had parents tell us their child's teacher commented on the difference in the child's reading at school, how much better they're doing," Schanzer said. "We've had parents almost in tears when their child on the autism spectrum will completely act differently after reading to the dog."

Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, which has 54 branches, said most of what libraries are offering "is in response to requests people have . . . things that excite and interest people's minds.

"It gives people an opportunity to be seen and heard," he said. "Thousands and thousands of people are going to these programs."

There's a fee for some offerings, but many are free.

 

Tai Chi and Chi Gong, too

For three years, patrons have been able to engage in Chi Gong at the Rockville Centre Public Library.

"We have a strong yoga program and we've been offering Tai Chi, but I was approached by a patron who asked if we ever heard of Chi Gong," said program coordinator Sarah Siegel. "She explained it, and it seemed like the kind of thing our seniors were looking for. It's calm, it's a little more gentle, and you can come in at any time."

Chi Gong and Tai Chi, ancient Chinese martial art systems that integrate physical postures, breathing techniques and rhythmic meditative movement, are said to help people maintain health even into old age. They improve muscle strength, coordination and flexibility, lower the risk of falls and improve sleep, according to the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association website.

"The majority of the people who come are between 50 and 75," said Marianna Farina, one of the program instructors.

Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton offers tap dancing for seniors in the spring, a jewelry making workshop and a new Museum Pass program.

"Our Friends of the Library group gives us money to buy annual passes to museums, and we circulate them to our patrons," said library director Elizabeth Burns. "They check them out like they check out a book. They use it and return it for other patrons."

The museum passes are for the Children's Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton and the American Museum of Natural History, Frick Collection, Guggenheim Museum and Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan. Those who take up tap dancing hold a recital at the end of about eight sessions.

 

Creating jewelry

On Saturdays, a member of the staff shows participants in the jewelry workshop how to create original necklaces and bracelets. "They do a lot of beadwork," Burns said.

On Wednesdays, the library presents a series called Memorable Meals, when local chefs and cooks are invited to prepare their specialty and bring it in for lunch with library patrons.

"We have cooks from different countries," Burns said. "It makes the library smell lovely. We're always trying to find programs to reach different segments of the community. It's really exciting. In my experience, having been a librarian for over 20 years, programming has just taken off."

The library is considering offering a course on drumming.

As a change from going to a friend's home, 8- to 12-year-old patrons at the Manhasset library can arrange to have a sleepover there as part of the Sleeping in the Stacks program.

"If there's a group that wants to do it, we'll let children sleep overnight," said director Maggie Gough. "They have their roll-up bags on the floor, but they don't do much sleeping. They stay up all night and watch movies and do a lot of eating, talking. Some parents stay with them. After awhile, they want their mommies there."

Despite the popularity of high-tech and electronic games, libraries still offer a gaming program of the old-fashioned variety. On a recent Friday evening, characters in the Candy Land board game came to life at the Longwood Public Library in Middle Island.

Eighth- and 10th-grade volunteers made the props and played the roles of Queen Frostine, Gramma Nutt, the missing King Kandy and the rest of the characters. Most of them wore costumes the library provided.

Children in kindergarten through sixth grade picked cards with colors that determined how they would proceed along a winding rainbow path, dodging a molasses swamp and other obstacles to find the king. Winners received a big lollipop.

The game, a new offering at the library, was a fun event for the volunteers, the children -- one as young as 3 -- parents and grandparents.

"It's really good of them to do this, and it helps our community," said volunteer John Motta, 17, who uses a wheelchair.

Lauren Asmus, whose son, Dillon, 14, and daughter, Sarah, 12, were volunteers, said: "This is absolutely wonderful. It brings all the age groups together."

At the Wyandanch Public Library, another type of technology is also bridging the generation gap. A Spanish-language computer is among five awarded to the library through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"We have noticed a tremendous increase of people coming into the library," said director Timur Davis. "Once reluctant adults are now freely maneuvering the Internet or producing professional-quality documents. They are also spending time with their children on the computer, a job made easier because each unit comes with a dual headphone set."

As other librarians on Long Island would doubtless agree, he said, "We're going to be a library that's focused on operating in the new millennium."

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