A woman holding seed catalogs approaches the circulation desk to inquire about gardening books. Not only is she directed to reference books, she is told of an upcoming program that promises information on how to grow plants and vegetables in the north country.
On Wednesdays, senior citizens gather to gain knowledge of computers and other electronic devices.
On other weekdays, mothers shepherd their toddlers to storytime, and students converge on the teen center to play games or just hang out after school.
Jennifer R. Duell, a tutor in the Carthage Central School District, uses the facility when helping students with their studies.
I dont think I would be able to tutor if I couldnt use the library, she said.
Yes, the public library.
No longer is it just a quiet area to read or to serve as a storehouse for books its a community gathering place for lifelong learning.
In a day when the printed word is slowing fading replaced by digitized news stories and e-books public libraries could be collateral damage. But with the help of the North Country Library System, they are thriving.
A video about the areas library system can be viewed at http://wdt.me/library.
The NCLS, which encompasses 65 public libraries in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Oswego counties, has shown an increase in three of four key categories since 2001, when the organization began tracking data in those categories: patron visits, program attendance, computer users and cardholders.
There is a perspective that libraries are tied to print, said Stephen B. Bolton, director of the North Country Library System. However, as things change with technology, libraries have adapted to expand their services.
Despite that adaptation, the news for libraries isnt all good. If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomos proposed library cuts are adopted in the next state budget, some programs could be in jeopardy.
Gov. Cuomo is proposing a 4.7 percent cut from last years $85.6 million library budget. The proposed reduction comes out to $4 million.
Our main expense is staffing, Mr. Bolton said. Cuts in funding could mean cuts in staff and programs. We would not be able to respond to the needs of the libraries as well as we have. There is more we could be doing to help the libraries stay up to date with technology.
Some regional libraries charge a membership fee or fees for services, but the NCLS doesnt.
Many of our libraries are very small and underfunded as is, so we have never wanted to have them pay for services the state should supply, Mr. Bolton said.
Morris A. Peters, spokesman for the state Division of Budget, told the Times that the governors budget maintains the core library aid. He would not elaborate.
The state Senate and the Assembly are working on their versions of the budget. The 2015 fiscal year begins April 1.
According to a news release Tuesday from Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, the Senates plan, which was approved March 14, includes $8 million in increased aid for libraries, through the restoration of Gov. Cuomos $4 million in cuts and an additional $4 million.
Our Central and Northern New York public libraries serve an important role, not only as centers of learning and entertainment, but also as vital community centers, the release from Sen. Ritchie, a member of the Senates Select Committee on Libraries, said.
The Assembly proposal would cut aid to libraries by $2 million, according to the release.
Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, said he wants to ensure that libraries are properly funded.
Our libraries play an important role in supporting the education of our youth and enriching our adults and communities, he said. The Assembly Democrats who are proposing cuts to our libraries need to compromise with our senators and restore funding to this important public service.
In light of Gov. Cuomos proposed cuts, Barbara J. Wheeler, director of the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library in Watertown, said NCLS representatives are in Albany pleading for more funding.
Mrs. Wheeler said teen programs at her library have become so popular that personnel there have had to divide the group into two age groups, adding programs for pre-teens.
At the Carthage Free Library, Dakotah R. Hall, 16, said she started coming to the library to volunteer, read books, do homework, or just have a quiet place to go when she was bored at home.
Joining the teen group, she found friendship with peers she wouldnt normally interact with, such as home-schooled students.
There were only three or four people at first, but as it got more attention, more and more came, Miss Hall said.
The NCLS is rooted in the Regional Library Service Center, the first of its kind in New York state and one of the first in the nation.
Established in 1948 by state librarian Charles F. Gosnell, the regional library initially was headquartered at the Roswell P. Flower Library. The goal of the new organization was to supply books and additional library materials to other libraries and to provide advisory assistance to staff and trustees.
Books were delivered weekly to outlying libraries, except during the winter, when materials were mailed. As a service to libraries, the RLSC staff designed and printed publicity material and catalog cards. Before technological advances, each book in each library had an index card with its vital information: title, author, type of book (fiction or nonfiction), a brief description of the book, and the Dewey Decimal System number used to locate the book within the library.
In 1958, a change in state law allowed the establishment of a state-supported cooperative library system, and the NCLS was formed, with the late John B. Johnson, editor and publisher of the Watertown Daily Times, as the first president of the board of trustees.
Throughout the years, the NCLS, now in the town of Pamelia, has grown to help its members.
The system continues to fulfill its two main goals of providing a shared circulation of books and other physical materials, and to act in an advisory capacity, but its mission has expanded.
Emily M. Owen, executive director of the Canton Free Library, sees the NCLS from both sides, since she previously worked as a consultant librarian for the regional agency.
NCLS expands the collection of libraries, which could not afford to own all the books available, she said.
Carthage Free Library Director Linda M. McCullough said the interlibrary loan system makes hard-to-find titles or specialized items available.
The system also provides an ever-growing shared collection of e-books and audio books, downloadable for loan.
According to Mr. Bolton, the circulation of e-books nearly tripled from 2011 to 2013.
We are expanding our collection in response to that increase, he said.
Technology services is another growing area in the NCLS.
From helping to determine computer needs, to finding funding to purchase systems, to setting up new systems, the NCLS walks its members through the process.
The tech support is invaluable, said Mrs. Wheeler, of Flower Library. She noted the agency recently helped update its public-use computer system.
Meanwhile, the Carthage Free Library recently underwent an expansion and renovation project; the NCLS aided by finding grant money for the construction and roof replacement. And the Osceola Library was on the verge of losing its charter before Leona M. Chereshoski took over as director in July 2008.
With the help of the NCLS, she has turned the library around, and now it has 160 patrons in the hamlet of 227 residents.
We couldnt exist without NCLS, she said.
The three public-access desktop computers and three laptops donated by a local business are a big draw to the small library, which is housed in a former church built in 1888. The regional library aided the rural member in doing the footwork for a new Internet provider to upgrade from a dial-up system.
Looking ahead, NCLS plans to continue to expand free services to its members as long as funding allows.
According to its five-year plan of service, the NCLS hopes to have all of its members using the integrated library system by 2016 in order to make the regional library resources more readily and equally available to their patrons.
The regional library also is developing a collective virtual reference service, Ask Us, which would be available around the clock.
Local librarians find few shortcomings with the NCLS.
I dont see any downside; they do everything we need them to do if they can afford it, said Mrs. Chereshoski.
The death of the book is overrated, said Ms. Owen, of the Canton Free Library. The library is busy there definitely are more users of e-books, but regular books are going out all the time. Libraries are still about books.
Findings by the Pew Research Centers Internet & American Life Project, released in 2013, support this view.
Many library patrons are eager to see libraries digital services expand, yet also feel that print books remain important in the digital age, the report summarizes.