Royal Oak — Need a certain type of baking pan, fishing pole, or record player? No need to buy it. Chances are, your local library may have it to check out.

Libraries across Michigan are moving beyond offering just books and media materials, opening up “Library of Things” sections. They’re designated areas containing household items, games, and more, all available for use or rent. Royal Oak’s library has everything from baking pans to telescopes. Wyandotte’s Bacon library has fishing poles. And Bloomfield Township has a large section of “kits,” especially those with special needs or sensory issues.

Deborah Mikulah, executive director of the Michigan Library Association, said depending on the unique needs of each Michigan community, items can vary from canoes and kayaks to video game rentals, sewing machines, and vegetable seed exchanges.

“(Patrons) get to try something different or maybe have access to something that (they) normally wouldn’t have access to at home,” said Sandy Irwin, director of the Royal Oak Public Library. “It’s like a try it before you buy it… there are times when there is barely anything on the shelf.”

In 2021, the Royal Oak library made its “Library of Things” fully available to the public. Since then, patrons have been “loving” it, said Irwin. With a Royal Oak library card, you can access a seed library, rent a record player (and records) and other items. They also can use the library’s Digital Imaging and Audio Lab.

Emily Crosby, a youth services librarian overseeing the vinyl collection at the Royal Oak Public Library, is a regular patron of the “Library of Things” herself.

“My daughter really loves the storytime together bags the library has, and I always grab some music from our vinyl collection,” she said. “I grabbed the Backstreet Boys album for my daughter to listen to, and we got to hear it together.”

The Bacon Memorial District Library on Vinewood Street in Wyandotte sits across the street from the Detroit River, which has influenced its “Library of Things.” The library provides weekly rentals of fishing poles and tackle boxes, both of which are extra useful to patrons.

“(The Library of Things) is very popular and people really enjoy it,” said Laura Gramlich, the library’s director. “(Services from the Library of Things) get checked out a lot. We’ve been doing the fishing poles for about a decade, and we have a lot of families that come in and get them, and they’ll go over to the park and fish at the park.”

Among the fishing rods and guides, patrons also can check out baking kits, CD players, board games, and video games. Patrons also are welcome to make suggestions to the library.

“We’ve just been expanding, and expanding, and expanding due to demand. The reception has been so good and we’re very open to patron requests.” Gramlich said.

For 20 years now, the Bloomfield Township Public Library on Telegraph Road and Lone Pine Road has been renting out kits filled with different games and materials depending on their intended purpose, including immersive backpacks directed at all age groups. The backpacks contain various learning, recreational, emotional, and physical support materials and activities.

“We have kits available for all ages, from young children to senior citizens,” said Katherine Bryant, Bloomfield’s assistant library director.

“While we highly value books and reading as methods of learning and discovery, we also know that a lot of people need and prefer hands-on learning,” she said. “We think that kits, or a Library of Things, are a great way to provide that to people.”

As part of the library’s Accessibility Support Collection, for example, patrons can check out “all-in-one” kits which include multiple books, small toys, games and manipulatives pertaining to a concept or life skill. The entire collection offers a wide range of materials, especially for those for special needs, including Braille books, books for those with low vision and toys for those who may need to work on fine motor skills.

“It really helps to have this multisensory approach for people who are more visual or tactile learners. In our youth services room, we have an extensive accessibility support collection that is intended to help children with learning disabilities and cognitive impairments,” Bryant said. “So a lot of these kits started as a part of that collection. Still, as with many accessibility services, we soon found that they’re a benefit to everybody, no matter if you have a disability or impairment, or not… we had one person who checked out a helping aid kit that contained things like jar openers and hand grips because they had just had hand surgery.”

“Library of Things” sections have been popping up in libraries across the state for about a decade, said Mikulah with the Michigan Library Association, which represents nearly 400 libraries across the state. The inspiration behind a “Library of Things” is to provide the public with the things they need and be more aware of our environmental footprint as a community, she said.

And she believes patrons will see more and more public libraries go in that direction, adding “Library of Things” sections. She said libraries have become more like community centers, responding to a community’s needs.

“They’re now places where we have access to the things we want,” she said. “We’re very much looking at libraries responding to their community’s wants and needs. Having access to the ‘Library of Things’ really does help families.”

And even if a “Library of Things” doesn’t have something, that could change.

“It’s a pretty exciting time because a patron can walk into a library and say ‘I want this thing, do you have it,’ and a librarian will say, ‘Well, we don’t right now, but we can get it,'” Mikulah said.

To check an item from the Royal Oak Public Library’s “Library of Things,” you must have a Royal Oak library card, which requires you to be a resident, property owner, or worker in Royal Oak. Library card holders from cities neighboring Wyandotte may check out items from the Bacon Library’s “Library of Things,” and may call the library to find out if their city qualifies.

The Bloomfield Township Public Library allows library card holders within the library’s network to check out items, and to find out if you are a network member, you can call the library or check their website for qualifying library cards.

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