The public library in an Internet age: At the Ann Arbor District Library, you can borrow a telescope | Michigan Radio
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The public library in an Internet age: At the Ann Arbor District Library, you can borrow a telescope

Sep 1, 2015

You check out rent the giant chess set that’s in the lobby of the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. Production librarian Jody Harnish said since it takes about about a dozen human-sized bags to transport, they haven’t found a good way to coordinate it. But that’s about the only thing that’s off limits. There are electric guitars, models of the human brain, sewing machines, Frisbee golf sets and energy meters, all ready to be checked out, just like a book.  

Credit Carolyn Gearig/Michigan Radio

 “We’re focused on providing unique experiences that you can’t get anywhere else,” said Eli Neiburger, AADL’s deputy director.

That used to be getting information. In checking out books, libraries were working to provide something “you can’t get anywhere else,” but today you can get that on the Internet. Neiburger said the tool collection is a reimagining of this idea of making things ubiquitous.

“Libraries have very powerful and efficient infrastructure for sharing physical objects,” he said. “It’s going to be a long time before you can download a telescope.”

Patrons can use this as a way to test products before they buy, as a way to expand creatively, or just as a fun afternoon activity. Throughout the day, kids come in and beeline for the guitar, a soft-spoken women uses the die-cut machine, and a grandfather leads his granddaughter through the science tools collection, looking at models of bones and the human brain.

People tend to be surprised to find all this at a library, but Neiburger said they shouldn’t be.

“It’s not outside our mission at all, unless you define the mission as just books, and libraries were here before books,” he said. “We were doing cuneiforms and scrolls and all that stuff. Libraries are about information, learning, recreation, entertainment – always have been.”

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.

– Paula Friedrich and Carolyn Gearig, Michigan Radio Newsroom

The original headline for this story read you can "rent" a telescope, which has been changed to "borrow," as rent connotes payment, and AADL's tool collection is a free service.