DRACUT – It’s not your father’s public library.
Gone are the stern librarians who demanded quiet with a harsh “Shhh!” The antiquated card catalogue, with its Dewey Decimal System, has been replaced with electronic sources. There are books on audio, movies on DVD and music on CD as the public library has tried to keep pace with a changing world.
At the M.G. Parker Memorial Library in Dracut, there are programs for anyone from 2-years-olds to adults. The library brochure reads like a cyclone of activity. Library Director Randy Robertshaw says that programming is full and always changing.
Newspaper columnist, author and radio personality Howie Carr made an appearance there in the spring. Author, lecturer and teacher Andre Dubus III spoke there in February. Robertshaw said a local author series is being planned for the fall.
Robertshaw, 36, grew up in the Highlands section of Lowell and came to the Parker Library in October 2010. He served as library director in Tyngsboro for four years, prior to a one-year stint in Wisconsin as the Rice Lake Public Library Director.
He lives in Lunenburg with his wife and 6-year-old son, Colin. The daily commute is a bear and Robertshaw said he is looking at houses in the Greater Lowell area.
Q: Has the public library gone the way of the horse and buggy?
A: “No, I don’t think so. Circulation is up an average of 6 percent a month in the first six months of 2012. We are very, very busy. There’s no question that people are using the Parker Library.
“The publishing industry is evolving and that’s redefining the way libraries are operating. What’s changing is what libraries are being used for. Story times are robust. Programming is full and changing. We have something called “Overdrive” that enables people to download electronic books and electronic audio books to your devices.
“So I think that things are changing, but the public library hasn’t gone the way of the horse and buggy.
Q: How closely does your staff have to monitor Internet use?
A: “It is our policy that a child has to have the permission of an adult to use the Internet. They cannot just go online. Part of the problem libraries have had with things like Facebook and MySpace have more to do with Internet infrastructure of the building and any kind of heavy use that was taxing the network and causing problems for people who were trying to use the Internet to check their bank accounts or read the news.
“The library has placed a two-hour limit on Internet usage. We can be flexible if you need more time, but we want to know, generally, why you need more time.
“The Board (of Library Trustees) and the administration, long before I came, set up a structure and put policies in place that have gone a long way in addressing some of the more touchy issues.”
Q: How do you feel about library user fees?
A: “The difficulty with imposing user fees is that folks that use the public library often use it because they can’t acquire those materials on their own. That’s the struggle you have. The public library was set up to be a free library for folks that didn’t have the means.
“The great thing about the library is even if you can afford the materials, you don’t have to buy everything. You can make judicious reviews of books, CDs or DVDs before going out and actually buying those things. We all have money, but we all have less money.
“I understand the thinking behind user fees but when we can offer municipal services to people free of charge, it’s beneficial to everybody in the community.”
Q: What is attracting most of the patrons to the Parker Library?
A: “There are so many things it’s hard to pinpoint. Museum passes is one program that is being used a great deal. Computers, of course. Summer reading is a big draw right now. If you consider how many kids in the school district have summer reading assignments, that’s a big support function that we do for the schools. That’s another instance where it’s part of the curriculum and not everyone can afford to go out and buy every book on the list.
“But the biggest draw is probably Miss Penny (Children’s Librarian Penny Berube.) She is always coming up with new and refreshing ideas. This summer, we have a Scrabble club. We have a LEGO club that meets once or twice a week. There are 25 or 30 kids. You can come in and look at all the LEGO designs down in the lobby. There is so much traffic and activity going on during the day. The other day Miss Penny did a muffin design class that was very, very cool.”
Q: What historical character would you like to have met?
A: “Robert F. Kennedy. I appreciated his religious devotion. He and Ethel were ardent Catholics and he was very much a family man, which I always admired. I think his philosophy focused on the welfare of people. The downtrodden. He was an evolving character. He didn’t remain static. The Robert Kennedy in his 30s was not the same Robert Kennedy who ran for president in 1968. That was a characteristic I admire. You know, that personal growth.”