By Marcella Kester, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
The Osterhout Free Library truly defines the phrase “something for everyone.”
The library opened its doors on Jan. 29, 1889, as one of the first libraries in Northeastern Pennsylvania. It’s named after real estate mogul Isaac Smith Osterhout, who funded much of its inception through his estate following his death.
It added another notch in the history books by having none other than Melvil Dewey – creator of the Dewey Decimal System – on it’s board of directors. Dewey was also responsible for deciding the location of the Osterhout, believing that the Gothic architecture of the former First Presbyterian Church was perfect for such an establishment.
The Osterhout calls home to a variety of locations across the greater Wilkes-Barre area. Aside from Franklin Street, it provides three other branches that covers Plains Township, Parsons and South Wilkes-Barre.
Combined, it boasts hundreds of thousands of print volumes, more than 40 computers, and numerous multimedia materials in the forms of DVD’s, audio and video cassettes and more, according to Executive Director Richard Miller.
“The Osterhout is a historic place that is treasured for what it has been able to accomplish in the past, but it is also very valued for the potential that it holds today and tomorrow,” he said. “The library has always created a shared sense of community, and that is becoming more important. “
Between a deep-seeded friendship with its community plus all it has to offer, the library has been able to adapt to an ever-changing culture so it may continue to thrive.
One of the its greatest strengths lies within the surreal amount of free programs if offers to patrons of any age.
Perhaps best known for it’s multitude of children’s programs, the Osterhout provides supreme opportunities to entice young minds – starting as young as birth. The children’s center also travels outside of the Osterhout’s walls on a regular basis, providing outreach to area schools and learning centers.
Teens can enjoy everything from a weekly movie night to finding help on a school project. Many local students now frequent the library for educational services – like GED, SAT and ACT prep – to help combat financially struggling or eliminated local school library systems.
For adults, the Osterhout provides knitting and crochet classes, book discussions, sketching and DIY programs among others. It’s also home to numerous historic facts and pieces, making it a one-stop-shop for learning about local history.
“The library is increasingly becoming a place where people can come together to learn and connect and to have real human interaction. As a result, our programs are becoming more diverse and important,” Miller said of the dozens of available programs.
While cities across the nation have seen local libraries dwindle over the decades, the Osterhout has continued to act as a central part of its community – and that’s something Miller doesn’t see changing anytime soon.
“Though the internet has made information more accessible to the general public, it doesn’t always mean the information patrons are finding is accurate, or that they even know how to access said information,” he explained, adding that many of the library’s patrons either don’t believe information that’s online, don’t have internet access otherwise or simply don’t know how to use the technology.
Due to that, Miller said that libraries – including the Osterhout – will always have a place in the community. Another problem he’s frequently seen patrons face online is the inability to get a solid, concrete answer to their questions. Most times, librarians have the answers people seek, or can take you directly to a piece of information that has it.
“Librarians are an invaluable resource. We provide the most accurate information possible. With the onslaught of data out there, libraries and librarians are even more important than they use to be as we help patrons find the best answers to their questions — whether it be standing at the computer with them or answering over the phone,” he said.
For those who have either never visited the library or haven’t stepped through it’s doors in a long while, he suggests to stop by and see all that it has to offer, adding that a new passion or hobby can very well be waiting inside its walls.
And the best part? It’s free.
Many people visit the library to lean a new skill or find a new hobby,” he said. “We offer such a wide variety of programs, that we will definitely have something to spark your interest.”
Visit Osterhout.info to learn more.