In a day of smartphones, social media and E-books, public libraries may seem obsolete with its quiet atmosphere, endless rows of book shelves and library cards.
But according to Valerie Gardner, director of Hampton Public Library branches, at least 500,000 people used the library last year.
“Sundays are our busiest day of the week,” said Gardner, who has worked at the library for 41 years.
Gardner said the library gets all sorts of visitors from school buses of children in daycare or on a school field trip to young adults and older folks.
Several nonprofit organizations also use the library’s meeting rooms which can be used for hours at a time and must be booked in advance.
The library offers E-books where members can rent and read books online, a service Gardner said has become really popular in recent years.
“Not everyone can afford to buy books,” Gardener said.
Gardner said the average book can cost anywhere from $30 to $40 but people can visit the library and use a computer, rent e-books and access other services for free.
While many patrons do use or borrow books, Gardner mentioned computer rooms in all four branches are typically full and a majority of people using the computers ask for help applying for jobs online.
“There’s really a large segment of the population who don’t have access to the internet,” said Bree Harris, marketing manager for Newport News Public Library branches.
Known as the digital divide, Harris said some people don’t even know how to turn on a computer and said libraries are a great equalizer.
“There could be a college student reading an eBook on their iPhone sitting next to another patron who is learning how to fill out a job application online,” Harris wrote in a email.
Last year, 829,936 people visited the Newport News library branches.
One of the library branches most used services is the digital collection, which features search databases, E-books and audio books available online.
In addition to online services, the library provides a variety of programming for adults and children, from genealogy and film to paint night and beer and wine book clubs, Harris said.
“It’s not just all about books anymore and there’s a lot that we offer that adds a lot of value to people’s lives,” Harris said.
“Libraries are essential,” Harris added. ” It’s really the only free service left.”