INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - Those who imagine a modern library as a place to check out a musty, outdated book have another thing coming.
"They're not your parents' libraries, that's for sure," said Pam Rasmussen, managing librarian of the Incline Village Library.
Despite all the advances in electronics and digital media in the nearly 10 years since local library branches opened in Incline Village, Rasmussen and Betts Markle, director at the Prim Library at Sierra Nevada College, agree that the old-fashioned human aspect of a library might never change.
But how does a public library measure with a technology rich college library? While the Incline Village Library caters to the broad needs of the community, Prim Library is designed around students more nimble with the latest electronic gadgetry, navigating their way to learning in a next-generation library.
The rustic Prim Library, which opened in 2004, has vaulted, wood-beamed ceilings and giant picture windows. The library is open and airy, with contemporary tables and chairs and desks with lamps. It could be a ski lodge if there were a fireplace and a bar. And what seems very un-library like - there are relatively few books.
"I'm not stopping the purchase of physical books, but I'm not buying as many either," Markle said. "Society now has such fast-paced information. A book may be two years old before it is written, published and gets into a library."
Most of the books at Prim Library complement SNC's liberal arts curriculum, said Markle, adding that its collection of historical and art-related books also made sense to purchase, as obsolescence is not as much a factor.
As a college library, there is no children's section, and there are no music CDs.
"Music is no longer a physical item," said Markle. "CDs hardly exist anymore."
She said most students listen to computer accessed iTunes and streaming music stations such as Pandora.
There are no online courses offered, outside of supplements to college coursework, she said. What the library does have is online databases and easily accessible information.
SNC students are required to have computers, and Markle said those databases and online materials found in the library can be accessed from campus residence halls, study areas and classrooms, 24-hours a day.
"Reference materials are now online," Markle said in a slightly lamenting tone. "In my day, students sat down with an encyclopedia to find cool stuff. People don't do that anymore.
"Looking up books online is limiting and lonely. You don't have any books next to your book to visit."
So how does Markle envision Prim Library in 20 years?
"I hope the library will still contain some books," she said. "I have long believed there is a hand-eye coordination thing that goes on with books. You can manipulate them, touch them and collect them. There is still a place for books."
Markle does admit to owning a Kindle, a smartphone and a laptop.
"I like reading from a Kindle," she said, alluding to its convenience. "You don't have to carry around 10 books when you're on vacation."
More importantly, Markle said she hopes libraries will still be places to congregate and socialize.
"I hope the faculty understands that learning is collaboration. People want contact with other people," she said. "We can't become a nation of isolated individuals, even in our learning."
The Incline Village Library, which opened in 2005, has wooden beamed vaulted ceilings, picture windows and a cozy lounging area surrounding a double-sided fire place.
Rasmussen helped design the library.
"People thought of libraries then as book warehouses," she said. "Ours has lots of nooks and crannies."
The library has various sections of books, magazines and newspapers much of the length of the building. Displays of DVDs and audio tapes are prevalent. In addition, there are imaginatively placed and playfully decorated alcoves and reading areas to explore, complete with complementing works of art and displays.
"The children's area is near the front, with all the other activity," Rasmussen said. "Public libraries are not the quiet places they used to be," she said, ironically adding, "It's not the kids that bother the adults, it's the ringing of cellphones."
Rasmussen said that while shelves of colorful books appeal to children, online interactive books and challenging, interactive games are just as attractive.
Online books and other goodies can be just as appealing to adults, but may be intimidating for some old-school patrons, Rasmussen said. For those who don't know how to search databases, check out online books and tapes or access online learning, librarians are there to help.
"With the explosion and popularity of downloadable books, we're ordering fewer hardcover books," Rasmussen said. "We're getting rid of old unused novels and research books and taking back the resulting real estate."
Besides the convenience of checking out books online, there are no late fees. When the book's due date comes, the book disappears from the patron's electronic device.
There can still be a waiting list for more popular online books, Rasmussen said, as the library has to buy as many electronic "copies" of books it feels it needs. Therefore, each copy of a book is available to only one patron at a time.
While Washoe County libraries have had to cut back on library hours due to budget constraints, anyone with a library card, Internet and a computer can access library online services 24 hours a day.
Popular online programs include adult learning centers with live tutoring for topics such as passing the GED test, preparing for the U.S. Citizenship and writing resumes. Language learning programs are also available. Students from kindergarten through high school can access live tutoring in subject areas including math, science, English and social studies.
"It's like having a library reference section in your own home," said Rasmussen. "It's your kingdom, and we're just the gatekeepers."
She added that people without Internet service sometimes come to the library even after hours and sit on the patio to access its services.
"I'd be lost without libraries," said long-time resident Rita Warren, who recently visited the Incline library to look up about 15 audio tapes and DVDs of BBC and PBS series and various movies. "They're nice, relaxing places."
Even with all the electronic advances, Rasmussen shared a similar view as Markle: One of the main benefits of a library is it being a community gathering place.
"Everything we have here, most kids have it at home. There is just something about being in the library," Rasmussen said. "We find when a child is screaming or crying, it is usually because they don't want to leave the library."
"A library is a destination for discovery. I want enough variety that every time people come to a library there is going to be something they haven't seen. I always want them to feel welcome here."
- Frank Fisher is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. He can be reached for comment at email@example.com.