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Southbury Public Library Provides Much More than Books

Head Librarian Shirley Thorson shares how the library provides “something for everyone.”

Libraries represent different things to different people. To Shirley Thorson, Southbury Public Library represents her entire career. Thorson has been working at Southbury Public Library since 1979, when she was a master’s candidate in library science. She started as what was then called a page, someone who re-shelved books and checked them out for patrons. In 1981, she became the library’s first reference librarian and then, five years later, moved to the Head Librarian position, which she occupies today.

“I’ve been through lots of buildings,” she said. “I worked in the original old building on Main Street, now the Senior Center and Parks and Recreation. I was there when it was added on to. And I was involved in the building of this new building, which was a ten year project.”

The new building, located at 100 Poverty Road, recently celebrated its five year anniversary with a public party on May 7 and a Benefactors’ Reception on June 1.

“We have a very active building and we want to bring even more people in,” Thorson said.

In addition to physical changes, Thorson has seen many other changes in libraries in general since she began her career.

“It’s in technology, of course,” she said.

Southbury Public Library was one of the first libraries in the area to have self-checkout machines. The old building had one five years ago, and the new building currently has three.

“Last year, we had almost 100,000 checkouts on those machines,” Thorson said. “You can’t do everything on it, but it’s convenient.”

The library also has four Kindles available for checkout, two of the latest model, and two older.  They come preloaded with bestsellers.

“That’s been fun because people try it out and decide whether they want to keep checking ours out or if they want to buy their own,” Thorson said. “It’s kind of neat.”

The entire library is wireless and Thorson said that many patrons bring laptops every day.  The library also recently redid its website (http://www.southburylibrary.org/) in honor of the five year anniversary.

“It’s really cool,” Thorson said.

The new website features the “Wowbrary,” an email newsletter that updates patrons on the new popular items that the library has purchased. The website also has links to an ancestry.com account which patrons can use “in house,” live job advice, and a reference tool for businesses on its homepage.

The coffee bar, sponsored by Friends of Southbury Public Library, is located behind the staircase, making it the library’s “hidden treasure,” Thorson said. The bar stocks several varieties of Green Mountain coffee.

“We’ve gone with the times,” Thorson says of the changes to Southbury Public Library. “People want devices, but also quiet spaces, which they may not find at home.”

Thorson also said the library looks to support people during the current recession.

“The economy is tough, so not everyone can afford everything,” she said. “We don’t charge fines for late books, although we do for late DVDs. We have free wireless, and lots of great stuff for entertainment.”

Last Saturday, the library began registration for its children and teen summer reading programs, which had about 1,200 participants last year. This summer, the adult summer reading program is called “Master the Art of Reading.”

“Every lecture is related to art in some way,” Thorson said.

There are also book clubs and a “Wednesday at the Movies” film series for adults and many activities for children and teens. A full schedule can be found on the website.

“We provide something for everyone,” Thorson said of the library. “If you came in here, you’d find something that interests you. You know? A comfy chair or a favorite book. We’re just super awesome."

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