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0000017b-35e5-df5e-a97b-35edaf800000 We spent the past two months traveling to libraries across the state to see how their roles have evolved with the rise of the internet. In Ann Arbor, patrons can rent telescopes from the Ann Arbor District Library's tool library, and in Macomb County there's a special library for the deaf and blind. What's going on at your local library? Tweet at @michiganradio using the hashtag #MILibrary.

The public library in an Internet age: the Kent District Library offers services beyond books

On a recent Thursday, the Cascade Branch of the Kent District Library in Cascade Township, just outside of Grand Rapids, was bustling – but not just with patrons checking out books.

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Toddlers played in KDLville, a learning center that engages kids and their parents through writing, talking, playing, singing, and reading, which all promote literacy. The branch even offers events where patrons can learn how to hula hoop, watch movies on the big screen and get answers to their technology questions without going to the Apple Store.

The Kent District Library has 18 locations spread across the suburbs of Grand Rapids and serves an area of about 400,000 people. Cardholders have access to every branch and can also check out books at the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Michelle Boisvenue-Fox is the director of innovation and user experience at Kent District Libraries. The position was created three months ago, a sign that the library system is looking beyond the norm to engage patrons.

“For almost the whole history of libraries we have offered a product for people to come in and consume,” she said. “That was information [and] reading material, and now they come in and create things.”

At the Cascade Branch, there’s Studio KDL, which has all the tools for video production, including video software on two computers and equipment like microphones and a portable sound booth.

Teens are encouraged to utilize video equipment to enter a library-sponsored film festival in October. Adult services librarian Suzanne Stevens said that the library is growing its resources to teach people how to use digital technology.

“Some people who do not use the library assume that it’s no longer needed,” said adult services librarian Penelope Zurgable. “But for the ones who actually come in and are here and know what we do here, I don’t think it enters their mind that we’re obsolete.”

Boisvenue-Fox said that the library could be one that just offer books and movies, but that wouldn’t necessarily meet the needs of the community.

“We’ve always really wanted to be the best for our communities and be the best library we can possibly be,”  Boisvenue-Fox said, “and that often has meant that we need to think differently.”

Over the past two months we’ve traveled throughout the state to see how libraries in Michigan are serving curious Michiganders. See the rest of our stories on Michigan libraries here and here.

– Paula Friedrich and Carolyn Gearig

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