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The public library in an Internet age: the Walton Erickson Public Library connects small community

Sep 2, 2015

Although Walton Erickson Memorial Library in Morley is one of only six libraries left in the state that uses a physical card catalog instead of an automated one, that doesn't mean it's technology deficient.

The library has six computers, often occupied by patrons who come to file their taxes, book bus and plane tickets, or do homework.

Morley is a rural town an hour north of Grand Rapids, dotted with cornfields and farm stands full of fresh produce. The library serves an area of 9,800 people, including a sizeable Amish population.

Many patrons don’t have regular Internet access, so they rely on the library’s computers for basic needs.

“Our computers are a huge part of the community,” library director Cory Taylor said. “Everything is going online. Of course, you’ve got those that come in and use the computers for social media, but I would say there is a lot of computer use for work-related things and more. They’re coming in and they need computers for that.”

The library also offers 20,000 books, a summer reading program and a used bookstore, and librarians often go to great lengths to help patrons.

Library assistant Steven King often helps Amish residents buy Greyhound bus tickets with his credit card, so they can pay him back in cash. And Taylor said that part of her job includes teaching people how to use computers.

“I can’t tell you the number of times where I’ve done a one-on-one with a patron, to show them how to access what they need and use the computer,” Taylor said.

Although Taylor hopes to move to an automated card catalog soon, she said there are some upsides to the old-fashioned system, which still uses a typewriter to add new cards to the collection.

“On snow days when people don’t have power, we can still operate,” Taylor said. “We wouldn’t be able to do that with an automated system.”

Over the past two months we’ve traveled throughout the state to see how libraries in Michigan are serving curious Michiganders. See the rest of our stories on Michigan libraries here and here.

– Paula Friedrich and Carolyn Gearig