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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

A Cable Revolt: Turn Couch Potatoes Into Bookworms

By Jen Thomas
12:00AM / Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hours of entertainment, intrigue, and suspense and romance are on these shelves.
Forget the cable, wash the dish, and get a book.

Despite nationwide statistics that seem to indicate reading is on the decline, Northern Berkshire area libraries report no decreased interest their services. Whether it’s Internet access, selecting favorites in fiction and nonfiction genres, or renting your favorite films without the hassle of corporate DVD rental stores, the libraries cater to all bookworms - great and small.

"We’ve seen a huge increase in usage and circulation,” said Pat McLeod, the director of the Milne Public Library in Williamstown. “We’re the second in the county for the amount of books taken out.”

Only Pittsfield's library serves more patrons.


Dan Dubois does some reading at the Freel Library at the MCLA campus.
And success isn’t limited to Milne. Throughout Berkshire County, librarians cite continued support of public libraries. At the Adams Free Library, Director Debbie Bruneau claims that half of the town’s residents have library cards.

"We’re the busiest public building in town,” she said.

Books Keep Adults In Suspense

What, or whom, is it that keeps the crowd coming back for more?

"Danielle Steele still holds her own,” said Joan Owczarski, the circulation desk manager at the North Adams Public Library. With bestseller authors like James Patterson, Dean Koontz, and Iris Johansen, fiction whodunits still dominate the list of most-borrowed books.

"It’s the New York Times bestsellers - the thrillers and mysteries -that are the most popular here,” Bruneau said.

Renewed interest in certain topics has seen a surge of book-borrowing trends. Along with the typical "how-to" nonfiction titles focused on cooking, gardening, knitting or decorating, library patrons are particularly interested in books on genealogy and local history.

"People want to know the context of their ancestors,” said Kacy Westwood, who staffs the nonfiction section of the library in North Adams. She also cited World War II and New Age themed books as some of the most borrowed.

While biographies and novels sustain the library, more and more of the current business comes from renting DVDs.

"My wife and I say that there’s too much violence and 4-letter words in movies these days,” said Jay Strange, of North Adams. “We like documentaries, family movies, and foreign films.” The Stranges frequent the library several times a week to pick up their favorites.

Lynn DePaoli, director of the Clarksburg Town Library, said, “DVDs and movies have been on the increase.”

All of the libraries boasted an impressive movie selection; there’s even an entire video story at the Milne Library.

"We have a really cool collection,” McLeod said. “Movies are a good source for entertainment and education.”

Kid Stuff

Harry Potter still reigns supreme in children’s literature, but more and more of the younger generation are finding the joy of reading. Supported by story hours, group events and activities, and unique contests, readership among school-aged children is on the rise.

“In good weather, our story hours are very well-attended,” said Mindy Hackner, the children’s librarian at Milne. “And we do events at the schools.”

On the agenda for February is a marathon of craft projects, including jewelry and friendship bracelet making, T-shirt painting, and a games day. Additionally, the library offers a book challenge that allows children who read a certain amount of books a week to receive a free book.

Holly Jayko, the children’s librarian at the Adams Free Library, said both weekly story times are full with 18-20 preschoolers. Picture books, Curious George books, and Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” tops the list for youngsters, but the older kids are interest mostly in the fantasy and science fiction genres. “Eragon” by Christopher Paolini and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams are on demand at all the libraries.

Many of the local libraries are planning special events for the February school vacation. At the North Adams Public Library, the children’s department sponsors a chess club and Valentine’s Day programs, along with a special beekeeping presentation during vacation. The Adams Free Library will host folk singer and storyteller Tim van Egmond on Feb. 20, and a ‘Zoo on the Go’ in April.

For The College Crowd

While the more traditional academic disciplines are most popular at the Freel Library at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, magazines, journals, and movies hold their own with the college kids.

"The collection is primarily academic,” said Linda Kaufman, the college’s reference librarian. “Literary criticism, historical books, art books - it’s based on research.”

Heather Grant relaxed and read at the Freel Library.


Though Kaufman expressed concern over the future of libraries because of the movement toward online literature, she explained that there are still “die-hard readers, even in college.” She pointed to the monthly list of the top 10 books read by college students in The Chronicle of Higher Education as proof.

In the Jan. 26 issue, featured books included ‘The Iraq Study Group Report”” and “Bad President.” Also listed is a novel by Mitch Albom, famed author of “Tuesdays with Morrie” and a memoir by up-and-coming politician Barack Obama.

Freel Library does primarily act as a quiet space for studying, but it also boasts an impressive collection of children’s literature. It’s rare compilations of specialized books like these that sustains the poorly-funded library and keeps the well-read student busy.

According to many regional readers, books are the best deal around.

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