In recent years, libraries across the country have been forced to go beyond their traditional purpose.
Long thought of as places to simply borrow books and find research material, libraries now offer services. in a multitude of ways.
The Camden County Library System was recently honored by the New Jersey State Library Awards in the category of Best Practices in Early Literacy.
Serving 26 communities across Camden County, the system sought to utilize the 21 parks and conservation areas within the county back in 2018, according to Freeholder Melinda Kane, which led to the creation of the Story Time in the Park series.
Originally slated as a weekly pilot to host four outdoor story times during the fall of 2018, its popularity grew quickly enough to allow for the creation of spring, summer and fall sessions within one year.
One of the most attractive aspects of the program was its inclusive nature.
“Rather than having people come to the library, the library is coming to everyone’s community,” Kane said. “Its original design was to help capture readers at a young age.”
The story time events include stories, songs, stretches and activities, with library staff bringing books and materials to be shared with children in the park.
“We are always looking for new ways to engage the families in our community,” said Director Linda Devlin. “Story Time in the Park was conceived to bring library services directly into the communities that we work with, instead of relying solely on the traditional model that asks our patrons to come to us. We started the program on a limited basis in 2018, and its success led to more and more growth.”
Kane realizes the former library model is no longer viable on its own, but the need for expansive services remains paramount.
“I think we have to look outside the box,” Kane said. “The reasons have changed why people need libraries, but the library system remains a vital part of Camden County and the community, and we need to find different ways to engage our residents, young and old.”
Through the 2020 New Jersey State Library Award, the Camden County Library System was commended for innovations that bring the library to residents who may not have visited on their own.
“The pop-up story times have removed a barrier to service for children in communities that may not otherwise attend traditional library programming,” said a release announcing the award.
Through the award, Kane says she hopes residents across the county become aware of the wide-ranging activities the library can provide residents with, either while open or closed.
“It serves a different purpose within the community than it did decades ago,” Kane noted. “It’s not just a place to go read or do research; it really is a community center.”
Libraries within the Camden County system remain closed due to COVID-19, but some library services remain operational. Visit www.camdencountylibrary.org for more information.