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The changing library

Photo by Mary Guck Branch Manager Renee Frethem stands next to the walk-up computer stations at the Wadena Public Library. Frethem said these computers are used continuously by people of all ages.

One doesn't hear a librarian say "shhh" very much anymore. Those days are in the past, and the library is changing in several ways. Reading habits are different, new electronics are being introduced, and the library is trying to stay cutting edge, keeping up with these new devices. How are the changes affecting the Wadena library?

Reading habits have shifted, including who is actually going to the library.

"We do lose a majority of [people] when they're in junior high and high school," said Renee Frethem, branch manager of the Wadena City Library for 10 years. "They don't have time to come here. They're either in school, at practice or at games."

The library does the best it can to attract this younger generation.

Legacy events help pull people of all ages to the library. The Legacy Amendment, passed in 2008, is for arts and cultural heritage.

"They are filtered through arts councils, historical societies, and libraries. If we can get people to come to legacy events that are sponsored by the library, it makes us more attractive," Frethem explained.

The Legacy events are going to start up again soon.

"We've usually averaged about two or three a month," Frethem said.

Examples of previous Legacy events were bus trips down to King Tut and St. Cecilia trio, Charlie Maguire and Prudence Johnson concerts. These events are free.

"It's your tax money at work," Frethem explained.

As for the big readers, "you see them all the time. The only people we seem to lose from that group are the people that buy electronic books," said Frethem.

The library doesn't necessarily lose these readers, but there are few books that digital eReaders like Kindles and Nooks allow the library to offer, and they're usually older titles. Sony readers offer a much wider selection for those wanting to download books from the library. Electronic reading devices aren't completely taking over, however.

"There are still people, like me, that want to hold an actual book in their hand and turn a page," Frethem said of the new devices. But overall, "I think it's great. People really like to be edgy and go electronic. I don't like to see the limiting of people using their libraries. They may or may not be able to download as many items."

Are the modern electronic reading devices attracting people to read more?

"I would really certainly like to think so," Frethem answered.

The Wadena library stays on top of the newest and best electronics, too.

"We've added many new computers," said Frethem. "We've been in on every Gates grant opportunity that has been afforded the library from the very beginning."

Gates grants, created by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, are offered to public and school libraries, giving them the chance to obtain hardware and software from his company, free of cost. In return, these libraries need to upgrade the electronics when necessary.

"It certainly helped Wadena library because we only had to do a match in funds, rather than purchasing the whole thing ourselves," said Frethem.

Wadena library houses 10 public access computers, scanners and printers.

"We have access for people who can't afford it or who don't have access where they live." The computers are definitely being utilized by all age groups. "They are used continuously," added Frethem.

One can't assume somebody is checking out a book when he or she is heading to the library anymore. The library plays host to movies, audiobooks, magazines, newspapers, CDs and electronics as mentioned before. The Wadena library proctors exams, too.

As for the future?

"I think we will still try and stay cutting edge," Frethem responded. "We're looking into Skype and laptops to rent out. As far as hardware and software, we'll stay on top of things."

So, what happened to the classic library filled with librarians "shh-ing" every five seconds? Frethem said the days of "shh" have probably passed.