Laura Rawley teaching a screen-printing class to students in the Tompkins County Public Library.

Moving begins the process of making a house, or living space, a home. Home can be more than feeling at ease within a set of rooms though, and the feeling of home can come with a sense of belonging within a community. For Kerry Barnes, Tompkins County Public Library Foundation assistant director, the move to a new place has always been accompanied by a trip to the nearest public library, the library acting as a passport to everything the community has to offer.

Newcomers to Ithaca will find the Tompkins County Public Library (TCPL) at the city’s center, located a block south of the Ithaca Commons, the northern wall of the library serving as one of the two main bus stops through which most Tompkins County Area Transit (TCAT) buses are routed. It is easy enough to get to and at its basis the library is a welcome refuge from Ithaca weather, frigid or sweltering.  

Under the guidance of Annette Birdsall, who is approaching a full year of serving as director of Tompkins County Public Library, the library hopes to grow from a safe and comforting, welcoming place to embody the notion that “this is a place for you,” this is a place of belonging.

If the library is physically welcoming – a public shelter, a free space that allows for a moment of peace – then the services provided are what allow for the feeling of belonging.

Barnes, who has served as assistant director of the TCPL Foundation for the past year, admits that even as a TCPL user since 2003, it was not until she started working for the library that she realized the totality of resources available. While the library’s resources can act as a passport to the community, it can be difficult for Tompkins County newcomers and long-time residents alike to know which opportunity to take advantage of first.

Classes or workshops, a calendar posted online of all those offered, provide a good window into many of the library’s resources. Classes frequently serve as tutorials on how to use certain resources, especially in spaces such as the new as of this year Makerspace.

The Makerspace houses a 3D laser printer, sound recording equipment, and an industrial sewing machine, among other technologies. Much of the equipment requires some level of experience, which can luckily be generated through classes, allowing those interested to use the Makerspace on their own during open lab hours. Recently, a class on how to make a podcast utilized the recording equipment.

As for relaxing library protocol to help lure people in, since assuming the role of director Birdsall has discarded the policy of charging late fees for baby board books and children’s picture books. Although the full cost of the book will be charged when the book is 30 days overdue, the elimination of the late fees for children’s books is one step towards creating a place of belonging. Typically, library card holders are charged twenty-five cents per day that a book is late, suspending card use if more than ten items are overdue or if fees exceed ten dollars.

It is Birdsall’s goal to eventually eliminate all late fees as these charges cause feelings of guilt and shame to be associated with the library and act as a barrier to that desired sense of belonging for library-goers. As a step towards this goal auto-renew has been implemented, reducing late fees by automatically renewing checked out items.

With a remodeled teen area, plenty of computer stations, and small study rooms, open for use on a first come first serve basis, TCPL has rooms to suit a number of needs and includes things like access to a scanner. In the Ezra Cornell Reading Room, you can read quietly at Ezra Cornell’s own desk, concerts performed on the room’s grand piano during events.

A room often overlooked is the Local History & Genealogy room, tucked away behind the shelves of fiction. The county historian holds office hours in this room whose shelves boast census data, yearbooks, maps and more all pertaining to local history, an ideal way for those new to the area to learn more about the county, their neighborhood or even their house specifically.

Of course, the room filled with local history resources serves as an information trove, supplemented by assistance from reference staff. Research assistance is typical to most libraries, but the free databases offered by TCPL make research through the library exceedingly easy. 

Other free online resources include eBooks, language learning software and movies.

Meeting like-minded individuals in a workshop or finding out more about the place you reside, acquiring additional skills or knowledge along the way, may appear as stamps in the metaphorical community passport. A more tangible stamp however is the Empire Pass to New York State Parks, available now for checkout. These annual passes cost eighty dollars, but through the library you can borrow one from a limited supply. Cayuga Nature Center and Museum of the Earth passes can be checked out as well. Such passes are ideal for those looking to explore the area without purchasing passes or paying at the gate to enter the state parks.

Once becoming acquainted with the library, if it begins to feel like the place for you, Barnes suggests volunteering. The library runs on time lent from its volunteers and along with being a part of the creation of a welcoming place, one is likely to meet a wide cross-section of Ithacans who frequent the library• 

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