At the heart of learning

The jingle of charms on belly dancers might catch your attention the next time you walk through your neighborhood library.

Libraries in Shelby County, and across the country, have refocused their purpose by adding more community events to their calendars.

Pelham Public Library boasts the highest circulation in the county — more than 300,000 books are borrowed each year — but director Barbara Roberts said even they offer more than reading nooks.

“This is not your mama’s library,” laughed Roberts. ” .”

The Pelham library added a yoga workshop to its calendar last year and will offer a belly-dancing workshop Sept. 20 and line dancing in January. They also have Nintendo Wii tournaments and knitting classes.

“I think people like the variety and the chance to learn a new hobby,” said adult services coordinator Dave Smith.

Women, armed with baskets of quilting material, gathered last week in Columbiana to take on a new hobby. First time quilter Barbara Lowe said she was happy to find someone who could teach her how to get started.

“I inherited my mother’s three boxes of quilting fabric and needed to put them to use or donate them,” Lowe said. “I knew how to sew, but had no idea how to quilt.”

Library director Jane Bailey said this scene is far from atypical in today’s libraries.

“We want the library to be the heart of the community,” Bailey said. “You should come here for everything. If you want to learn how to quilt, if you want to learn how to use the computer — we want the library to be the first place people think of.”

Columbiana has also offered genealogy and scrap booking classes in the past.

“It’s something for the community to enjoy and it helps support the library budget through the friends of the library,” said Sarah Atchison who helped lead the quilting class.

Roberts pointed out that the library doesn’t intend to compete with local businesses. She said all of it circles back to educating the public.

“Information is information, whether it is in a book, in a movie or online,” Roberts said. “That’s the basic thing a library is about — getting out information.”

So, the hum of the air conditioner might not be the only sound you hear in your favorite corner of the library anymore, but librarians say not to worry, their main focus continues to be the benefits of digging into a good book.