6 Ways Idaho Libraries Serve Patrons in the Digital Age

Mobile hotspots and 3-D printers are a few of the digital tools that libraries provide for students and others to use.

by Julie Wootton, The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho / April 22, 2016
Students in Pennsylvania schools will get the opportunity to make things with tools including 3-D printers thanks to the help of grant funding. 5chw4r7z on Flickr

(TNS) — JEROME, Idaho — Shadowy figures outside the library in the middle of the night aren't looking for trouble. Or books. They're looking for free Wi-Fi.

Edie Waite and her coworkers at the Jerome Public Library say patrons are showing up at odd hours — like 2 a.m. — with their electronic devices. Some sit on cement tables outside. Others stay in their car with the engine running to take advantage of the library's free wireless Internet.

Come to the libraries across the Magic Valley in daylight hours, and you'll find them adapting to a digital world  — moving beyond just offering hard copies of books. They're expanding services to include offerings such as computer classes and 3D printing.

And with online card catalogs and circulation at many libraries, "there's no more putting cards in the books and stamping them," Waite said. "Some people still think we're doing that."

The Twin Falls Public Library plans to start offering two new services within the next two weeks: mobile hotspots patrons can check out and 3D printing.

Over the years, the number of hard copy books people are checking out has remained steady, circulation supervisor CJ Rasmusson said.

But e-books and e-audio books are becoming more popular, youth services supervisor Erica Littlefield said. The library also offers free music and magazine downloads. Last year, community members downloaded nearly 33,000 digital items.

Many Idaho libraries use OverDrive  — an online service that allows people to borrow e-books for free. "That has been extremely popular," Waite said.

Some community members read both e-books and hard copies, she said, depending on what's available.

In Burley, about 100,000 hard copy materials are checked out each year, and that number has remained consistent, library director Julie Woodford said.

And she's seeing more young parents coming to library with their children. "We do a big business with the juvenile section of the library," she said.

Here are six examples of ways libraries are expanding their services:

Mobile Hotspots

The Twin Falls library plans to offer 15 mobile hotspots — portable devices that allow for wireless Internet access — for community members to check out for three weeks.

Rasmusson heard about similar offerings at libraries across the nation. "We decided to give it a shot," he said. They're working with T-Mobile's program for libraries.

3-D Printers

Many libraries across the Magic Valley have a 3-D printer they're using in teen programs or that's available to community members.

The Burley library has two 3-D printers and offers monthly classes for teens and adults.

Two years ago, the Jerome library received a grant through the Idaho Commission for Libraries' Makerspace program to get a 3-D printer. So far, they've used it for teen activities.

"We'd like to get to the point where the public can use it," Waite said. The library would charge a small fee for materials.

It's fun to watch the printer at work, she said. The filament is corn based, "so it kind of smells sweet whenever it's running."

The Twin Falls library also received its first 3-D printer through the Makerspace program. Since then, the library bought a new one that's more user friendly.

The youth services department has used it during activities to create educational models and jewelry, said Kasi Allen, a youth services librarian.

"It's kind of crazy in the sense that you can do anything you want to do," information technology specialist Adam Day said.

Community members will be able to create a model on a computer to print or choose from existing open-source templates.

Eventually, the Twin Falls library hopes to use the 3-D printer to make educational kits people can check out.

Public Computers and WiFi

The Twin Falls library has 28 computers for adults to use, plus five for children and eight for teenagers.

Anyone can use a computer if they bring photo identification. A library card isn't required and users don't have to live in Twin Falls.

Patrons are allowed to use a computer for 1  1/2  hours every day. And the library provides building-wide WiFi access that can be used anytime, plus laptops to use at the library — but not to take home.

The Jerome library has 30 computers available to city residents. "If no one is waiting, they can basically be there as long as they need to be," Waite said.

There are also two guest computers for out-of-town visitors and computers for teenagers. And there are five computers for children without Internet that have educational games.

Computer Classes

Want to become more tech savvy? The Twin Falls library can help. It offers free classes in basic computer, email and Internet skills.

The Burley library offers computer classes throughout the school year. But Woodford is looking into a grant to offer coding classes this summer.

Some libraries, including Burley, also offer hundreds of free online technology courses through Microsoft Imagine Academy with funding from the state. Many people who use the program are already in the workforce, Woodford said, and want to improve their skills.


If you're looking for information on just about any topic, there are databases and online resources librarians can help you find.

One example is the Libraries Linking Idaho website, lili.org, for students and adults. Topics include contemporary poets, an encyclopedia of food and culture, and "American Eras, Primary Sources: Westward Expansion (1800-1860)."

Foreign Language Software

Many of the Magic Valley's libraries offer software to help you learn a new language.

The Jerome and Twin Falls libraries, for example, have free access to Mango Languages, which provides instruction in about 60 foreign languages.

And the Jerome library has the Rosetta Stone program to use on a library computer.

©2016 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.