Although a recent West Virginia Supreme Court decision says school boards don't have to fund local library systems, library patrons say the library still is an important piece of the education puzzle.
Those opinions reflect the findings of a May 1 Pew Research study that found 94 percent of parents say libraries are important for their children. And parents who take their children to the library themselves use library services at a higher-than-average rate.
Parents who spoke with the State Journal say they and their children use the library for a variety of services—not just checking out and returning books. For some, going to the library is just a part of life.
Veronica Lewis of Ripley said she takes her two daughters to the library for a variety of reasons, but she has found those outings teach 5-year-old Emily a lesson in responsibility.
"I take my kids to the library to expose them to wide range of topics and types of literature available to them," Lewis said "As a side note, I also like going because it teaches my 5-year-old responsibility by making sure we return our books by the return date."
In Marion County, Colleen Phipps takes 3-year-old Noah to the library whenever she can. And although Noah is too young for a library card of his own, that doesn't stop him from enjoying some books so much that mom and dad actually buy them.
"I get the books on (my library card), but we ended up buying some of the books we get from the library," Phipps said, noting the popular "Mama Llama" books for youngsters. "He ended up liking them so much we ended up getting them from Amazon."
Noah falls into the 45 percent of children who don't currently have their own library cards, according to the Pew study, but he and Emily are two of 87 percent of children who go to the library to borrow books. About 46 percent of kids under the age of 18 say they go to the library to borrow CDs or DVDs.
Although the Phipps can afford to buy books for their son, they are part of a population of parents who take their children to the library for the experience. And Megan Tarbett, documents librarian for the West Virginia Library Commission, said many parents in West Virginia follow that trend.
"They still think it's important"
Tarbett said much of what the Pew study indicated is true in West Virginia. And though some library patrons may have the money to purchase books for their children, they understand the importance of the library system.
"People with resources, people who can afford the Internet at their house, can afford resources, are still going to the library for that early literary piece — story time," Tarbett said. "They still think it's important even though they could go buy the books themselves."
The Lewis family also keeps books in the home. Lewis said she and her husband read to Emily and 19-month-old Chelsea each night.
"We read to the girls every single day. We don't skip a night without a book," Lewis said. "Sure, it takes a few extra minutes and it isn't always convenient, but it's our job as their parents to enrich their lives in the best way we can, and there is no better way to do that than reading to them daily."
Amy Robinson of Charleston recalls visiting the St. Albans library when she was younger. Although she and her sister owned many books, trips to the library always were fun.
"Sure, growing up, my sister and I had books we owned — we, of course, had all the Babysitter's Club books, which we donated to the library when we outgrew them — but the bulk of my reading came from libraries," Robinson said.
The rise of the e-reader has not deterred West Virginia libraries. Rather, library systems across the state are embracing rapidly changing technology.
"Some libraries across the state and nation are taking those technologies and setting up sections where people can upload their videos to Youtube at the library — digital media labs," Tarbett said.
And for someone like Phipps, having a digital-friendly library is a godsend. Phipps is legally blind, but she can still enjoy books thanks to new technology. Books on tape or CD are now outdated, but the library offers a digital player, similar to an iPod, to people with low vision. Users can download books from a national library service onto their computers, then hook up the digital reader to the computer and transfer the file.
Phipps said she learned of the services available to her through the Library Commission.
Although the library system is taking steps to improve technology, it is still clinging to the tried-and-true methods of appealing to children: story time.
"Every library has all of their own things," Tarbett said. "Story time and summer reading have always been a tenant of the library. It's just what you do."
And it's not just children who participate. The Kanawha County Public Library a few years ago launched the Britton Summer Reading Club for adults. In honor of West Virginia's 150th birthday this year, the Library Commission came up with WV Reads 150, a program that encourages teams of 1-15 people to ready 150 books by the end of 2013. Tarbett said the response to WV Reads 150 has been enormous.
"We have so many libraries who wanted to do this," she said. "We knew it would be sizable, but even we were surprised at how many people jumped at this idea."
About 3,600 people across the state are participating in the program, representing 81 participating institutions.
"Already 25,000 books have been read. That's only in the first third of the year," Tarbett said. "Its things like that, not only on a local level, but statewide we'll do and continue to do once we see what success the program can have."