Why Our Public Libraries are More Popular than Ever

Thanks to new programming and technology, libraries across the state are evolving for the better.


Published:

State library director Annie Norman oversees 33 libraries across the state. // Photo by Ron Dubick

Why go to the library? Isn’t it easier to download a book onto an e-reader, search Google for information you need, or find a how-to video on YouTube?

It is faster—but something is missing.

Ask Destiny Blake, a 23-year-old security guard who regularly visits the Frankford Library, not just for books, but to get some help while pursing certification credentials.

“I feel comfortable here,” Blake says. “They are respectful and helpful. That’s why I go to the library.”

In the early days of the internet, naysayers predicted that easy access to electronic information would soon cause libraries to shutter.

They were wrong. Public libraries are in higher demand than ever, which has resulted in new, larger libraries in Newark, New Castle, Dover, Lewes, Georgetown and Seaford.

Step inside. Libraries are no longer book warehouses where patrons select titles in silence, tiptoe to the desk, then get their cards stamped. There are books, but there is also a new sense of opportunity to learn, make, do and think. 

Cynthia Umobi sits with her tablet in a designated quiet space in Dover Public Library. She needs to focus. The room’s expansive view of the outdoors is a bonus.

An office manager from Magnolia, Umobi usually takes her kids, ages 10-15, with her. She can do what she needs to do while they participate in library activities. “There are even volunteer opportunities for kids,” she says.

Though small municipal libraries like those in Frankford, Harrington and Greenwood may not offer spaciousness, the cramped quarters don’t deter patrons from waiting for the doors to open.

In addition to books, there is a respect for individual learning styles, recognition of the value of informal learning and resources for personal development. State libraries offer free programs for learners of all ages: story times, healthy living programs, book discussion groups, how-to opportunities, music, film—even instruction on how to make music and videos. They are job centers, hubs of exploration and lifelong learning that encourage creativity and curiosity.

They are not silent.

What’s happening in Delaware aligns with the rest of the country. “Technology and the internet are changing Americans’ reading habits and also their relationship with libraries,” according to Pew Research Center. “Half of Americans now own a tablet or e-reader, and libraries have responded by expanding their digital offerings. But what hasn’t changed is Americans’ love for books. American adults still read about as much as ever and overwhelmingly say libraries play an important role in their communities.”

Library directors across the state offer positive, passionate feedback about the impact of their services, not by reporting statistics on the number of patrons or by quantifying their collections. They speak about the communities they serve.

And they speak with a sense of pride, which is driven and nurtured by state library director Annie Norman.

Inducted recently into the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame, Norman oversees 33 libraries across the state. In a November 2015 TEDxWilmington talk, an enthusiastic Norman spoke about how libraries offer opportunities “to unleash your inner genius,” and “to explore and develop the American dream.”

Hence, maker spaces, performance spaces, inspiration spaces, and 3-D printers that draw people to the libraries and keep them coming back.

Libraries are free to patrons, but the funding mechanisms that support operations, facilities, and materials are complex, and they differ by community and county. Nevertheless, Norman aims to serve 100 percent of Delawareans through a library card. In 2000, 35 percent of state residents held cards. That number is now 50 percent, and marketing campaigns are aimed at enticing even more patrons. “We are looking at capacity,” Norman says, “stretching the target.”

Hitting the bull’s eye creates other challenges. Some community libraries, already understaffed, operate in spaces that do not meet the industry standard of one square foot per member. There’s a need for more computer stations, for staff training, for materials and for technology.

“The more we impact communities, the more we can fund,” she says.

Directors stay tuned into the impact a library can have on people. “We’re the anchor for the community,” says Frankford Library director Rachel Wackett.

Frankford, population 888, is a bedroom community for nearby resorts of Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island. Many residents are young families new to America who are working in the poultry industry or service sectors. Though the library offers reading materials, it also provides adult literacy classes, a summer feeding program for children, designated times for homework help, two bilingual librarians and a warm welcome.

“I know we transform lives,” Wackett says. Many people who live within walking distance of the brick library on Main Street live in poverty and often struggle with cultural and language barriers. “We know our families, and we function to serve the community,” Wackett says. “We are humbled by our patrons.

“If we didn’t attend to them, there would be dire outcomes. These people are courageous, survivors.”

About 90 miles north and culturally, some may argue, light years away, Diana Brown oversees the libraries in New Castle County. She ticks off the list of county facilities. For each, there’s a report on growth, expansion and renovation.

The Bear Library on U.S. 40 is the busiest library in Delaware, drawing people with popular programs, such as computer coding, that are a far cry from book discussion groups. Yet book groups still have a strong appeal.

In June, a new library will open on Del. 9 near New Castle. The neighboring community could be the urban counterpart to rural Frankford. Both are wracked by poverty underserved by access to something as basic as a grocery store.

That will change. Ground-breaking ceremonies in September 2015 marked the start of a 40,000-square-foot building modeled on national and international best practices. Think Lego room, a bookaterium, an interactive children’s wall, a STEM room, a place for video editing, a sensory room for people on the autism spectrum and a performance center.

In the middle of the state, Dover Public Library is approaching its fourth anniversary. It still feels new. Library director Margery Cyr says her challenge is to balance many learning opportunities, whether musical, literary or artistic expression, as well as social experiences.

“Everybody has a certain thing they love. We have a robust film program, for example, that is supported largely by retirees. We offer something for everyone,” Cyr says. She notes that free Wi-Fi is an attraction to at least 21,305 users. Many come from low-income households. “We have the highest wireless usage of any library in the state.”

User needs and expectations may differ from community to community, but library directors agree that their priority is to have their fingers on the pulse. “Everything we do is for the community,” says Ed Goyda, Lewes Library director.

Lewes opened a new library in June, doubling the size of the old facility to 28,000 square feet. That means more members. “We see a continuous uptake” in both paper and electronic book use, Goyda says.

Not all libraries can boast about their amenities, of course, but the joy of turning the pages of an actual book has not diminished.

Sussex County librarian Kathy Graybeal manages the libraries in Milton, Greenwood and Bethany Beach (South Coastal), plus a bookmobile, while filling an administrative role for 14 other libraries.

“We are the absolute tech center of the community, but we are still the great equalizer,” she says. “In a library, everyone has the same opportunity. We offer core services.

“It’s just a new format when you think of it. We have gone from scrolls to books now, and I don’t think we ever went out of vogue. You still need to read to succeed.” 

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February 2018

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

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The Philly Home + Garden Show will return to the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks February 16-18. The show will feature highly-interactive exhibits including a full scale model smart home,...

Cost: 10

Where:
Greater Philadelphia Expo Center
100 Station Ave
Oaks, PA  19456
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Sponsor: MarketPlace Events
Contact Name:

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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society in partnership with The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice are proud to present the inaugural Rehoboth Beach African-American Film Festival. The mission...

Cost: $10

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

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"Choir Boy" presents a complex look at race and sexuality. Shows are at 8pm on February 16 and 17; there is a 2pm matinee on Sunday February 18. Buy tickets online at www.WilmingtonDramaLeague.org.

Cost: $10-$15

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
Website »

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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Tickets are $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students. Tickets are available at the door. Cash or check only.

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Show More...
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will host a four-session diabetes educational program, The Diabetes Connection, on February 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. Pre-registration is required. As...

Cost: Call for cost.

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
View map »


Telephone: 302-629-6611 x2288
Contact Name: Nanticoke's Diabetes Education Department
Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

FREE COMMUNITY EVENT: MID-WEEK WORD REFRESHER Come join us at the Mid-Week Word Refresher every Wednesday at Faith Victory Christian Center from 11:00am - 12:00pm. Refreshments will be...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Faith Victory Christian Center
301 Commonwealth Avenue
Claymont, DE  19703
View map »


Sponsor: Faith Victory Christian Center
Telephone: 302.354.6726
Contact Name: Alvin Walker
Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Join DCH, New Castle Conservation District staff, and Delaware Cooperative Extension to grow and learn together through an entire season! Classes are designed for a beginner, but seasoned gardeners...

Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

Where:
Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Ruth Arias
Website »

More information

Clearing the mind and learning to think not thinking is Zen awareness. Taking the appropriate action in this moment is Zen. Once you know this in your body, walking, standing, sitting down,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark
420 Willa Road
Newark, DE  19711
View map »


Sponsor: UUFN
Telephone: 302.368.2984
Contact Name: Richard Field
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

This community event invites attendees to sample healthy dishes prepared by local restaurants and vote for the most creative, tastiest, and best preparation. The first 200 registrants may also sign...

Where:
STAR Health Sciences Complex
540 S. College Ave
Newark, DE  19713
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore connections between people and plants in these four inspiring presentations. Special thanks to Whole Foods Market for sponsoring this  year’s refreshments. Individual lecture pricing:...

Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

Where:
Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Mackenzie Knight-Fochs
Website »

More information

Tickets are $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students. Tickets are available at the door. Cash or check only.

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Ronald Barron was principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1975 until 2008. He joined the orchestra in 1970 after being a member of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and also...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Celebrate the 12th Annual Chinese New Year at the Delaware Art Museum! This celebration includes traditional Chinese art activities, artist demonstrations, a lion and folk dance, a Chinese yo-yo...

Cost: Free; donations accepted

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

For this Saturday’s activity, visitors will have fun with fluid dynamics and hydraulics - Pascal would be proud! Visitors of all ages are invited to discover solutions to science and engineering...

Cost: Free with admission; Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under: Free

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Website »

More information

Lights of Life Goes Disco Nights is Delaware’s premier breast cancer fundraiser to benefit the local programs and services of the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. Join us for a glamorous, fun...

Cost: *VIP $125.00; *Silver Mirror Ball $50.00

Where:
Dover Downs Hotel
, 1131 North Dupont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition
Telephone: 302-778-1102
Contact Name: Eliza Mohler
Website »

More information

The Newark Symphony Chamber Orchestra presents a performance of Johann Baptist George Neruda, Trumpet Concerto in E flat, with Wendell Banyay, Trumpet.  Also to be featured will be Gabriel Faure,...

Cost: 0 - $20

Where:
Newark United Methodist Church
69 E. Main St.
Newark, DE  19711
View map »

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