Libraries Of Imagination

By Sharon Naylor

May 14, 2015 5 min read

It may seem counter to our digital world -- where we can search online for any place on the planet, any animal, any historical figure -- to look anywhere else for information. But there's a world of imagination and inspiration nearby -- and it doesn't cost a thing to enjoy.

Your local public library is that mecca of learning, and many people who haven't been to theirs in years, even decades, are often surprised to discover just how much the library has evolved in recent years, offering glimpses into fascinating areas of interest through special collections, as well as classes and special educational and social events targeted to every age group, from children to seniors.

Maria Norton, director of The Morristown & Morris Township Library in New Jersey, says: "We present materials here that are from our special collections and archives, ranging in subject matter from everyday life in 19th century Northern Jersey to the art of Thomas Nast and A.B. Frost, detailed historical maps and atlases, Morristown's Gilded Age, and fascinating images of Morris County life by the early 20th-century documentary photographer Frederick Curtiss. Our patrons are now able to find images and historical information with easy and accurate subject searching, and we are able to save wear and tear on these fragile items. Collections are presented in a variety of formats, including photographs, art and text. Our digital collections are expanded and updated on an ongoing basis."

It's a great interest among adults and youth to learn more about their town and region, and an outing to the library to "treasure hunt" for local facts and fascinations is a terrific activity for parents and kids, or grandparents and kids, to share.

Among the collections found at libraries that are of particular interest in today's Google Maps culture are actual maps of the region drawn centuries ago. Cartography interests children who have seen and used maps in their video games, and access to a library's valuable maps of old is tremendous.

In addition to art and maps, libraries open up a world of imagination through classes. Norton says that some of the classes they offer include computer skills classes (especially valued by older residents who wish to keep their skills fresh for their careers or job searches), health and nutrition classes, and even cooking classes. Foreign language classes are also in demand to learn phrases prior to a vacation or to gain valuable skills for a job. And as it has been proved that learning new languages and skills are good for brain health, the library is very much a free wellness center.

Authors stop by to read from their newest releases or to conduct story time for kids, and libraries house priceless genealogical resources for those tracing their family trees.

For students, Grace Fleming, About.com guide to homework and study tips, says that homework and reports gain an edge from library exploration because many professors and teachers no longer accept encyclopedia articles as sources. Schools want children to dig deeper into the subject matter, and at the library, they can unearth books, articles, video and archived photographs to give dimension to schoolwork and special projects.

Another aspect of imagination involves exploring newspapers and magazines from different countries and written in different languages, which is a great way to practice foreign language skills and learn more about the lifestyles of different cultures.

Here you'll find books on tape, music recordings and classic books you've been meaning to reread, plus workout DVDs to keep your fitness regimen fresh and fun from week to week.

Finally, there is the social aspect of learning, the chance to meet and mingle with those who share your interests, such as in book clubs that meet each month at the library. And attending kids' story hours can connect you with other parents who may soon become friends, thus opening your world to their interests and cultures.

A step through the library's doors is a step into a world brimming with information, imagination and connection, whether you're delving into the history of 1815 or the new technologies and healthy lifestyle trends of 2015. Each month brings new programming, as library directors invite experts to educate and inspire, and as new books, music, magazines, movies and art are made available for your exploration.

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