A 93-year-old guy spinning a hula hoop to the music of a local string band was ample evidence of librarians’ assertion that libraries offer more than books nowadays.

That was the scene Sunday at the La Crosse Public Library’s “Music on a Sunday Afternoon” free concert series. The local string band, Prairie Smoke, was introduced by Kelly Krieg-Sigman, library director, who noted, in a voice strong enough to shake the stacks, that the concert coincided with the first day of National Library Week, which the library was celebrating with a week-long “hoo-ha.”

As the band began to play “Nail That Catfish to a Tree,” Don Denny rose from his seat in the front row and went to fetch his hula hoops — two of them, in fact, with colors that glowed as he began spinning them in time to the lively music.

After the tune was finished and Denny settled in his seat, guitar-player Tom Walter remarked that Denny, a fan of the band, had started hula hooping at age 87 and was now, how old? Denny said 93. Walter wryly observed that hula hooping was the way to a long life.

Ah, the things that you can learn during a visit to the library.

I’m sure the library’s week-long hoo-ha that included tours, lectures, guided walks, food and more music brought enjoyment to lots of people.

But, I thought as we enjoyed the music, for me the library is still about its gift of books that allow one to travel through time and space to experience, for example, Winston Churchill’s anxieties as World War II began. The book is Churchill & Orwell; the Fight for Freedom” by Thomas E. Ricks. Or “At the Strangers’ Gate,” Adam Gopnik’s tales of how he and his wife began their life together in New York City. That’s how I’m celebrating library week.

I’ll admit to a bit of nostalgia for the serene quiet, and even the occasional scowl from the librarian when a voice rose above a whisper at the Carnegie Library in Albert Lea, Minnesota. When I hear the scrape of a wooden chair against a wood floor, I am transported there. But the chairs in all our modern libraries are much more confortable. So much for nostalgia.

The efforts of modern libraries to better engage their communities go way beyond concerts and movie nights, according to the American Library Association (ALA).

For example, Georgia Highlands College Library has a lending program for drones at each of its four campuses. Drones can be checked out by all students and faculty and, according to the ALA, there is a big demand.

Other examples in the ALA’s ilovelibraries.org/transform website:

San Jose Public Library created a Virtual Privacy Lab that allowed patrons to build a “customized privacy toolkit” to protect themselves online.

Sacramento library patrons voted on what items they would like to have available for borrowing and the most popular items, such as a sewing machine, are now available for lending at the library.

Many of the transformation efforts cited by the ALA are evident in the programming celebrated this week by the La Crosse Public Library such as the programs in education and entertainment for an aging population — a population that was in the majority of the concert last Sunday.

The library week celebration concludes with programs starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at all the city libraries. See the library website for details at lacrosselibrary.org.

A trolley will carry patrons among the main library downtown and the branches. And from 3-5 p.m. Wisconsin Public Television’s Inga Witscher, host of Around the Farm Table, will give a cooking demonstration at the main library.

And on Sunday at 1:30 p.m., the main library will offer another free concert, this one by Under Paris Skies with Ron Reimer on accordion, Steven Meger on guitar, and Larry Dalton playing the upright bass. They play euro swing and gypsy jazz. Maybe there will be hula hoops. Probably not.

Dave Skoloda is a former part-owner and editor of the Onalaska Community Life and Holmen Courier.


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