BETHANY >> It is a Thursday morning with temperatures dipping in the twenties. Most toddlers and their caregivers might opt to stay at home. But, at the Clark Memorial Library in Bethany the Children’s Room is bustling with toddlers, babies, and their adults. It is the meeting of the library’s weekly story and play group, facilitated by Children’s Librarian Dorothy Esparo. One little boy hands out toys, a young girl creates a picture on the computer, and parents plan upcoming playdates.

“Moms and dads tell me that they really try to make every Thursday morning because it gives them a chance to meet other adults while their little ones get a chance to play and explore with other kids,” Ms. Esparo shares over the laughter of a toddler playing with a pop-up toy. “Some of the adults didn’t know their neighbors or the community until coming to play group. Either they are new to the area, worked right up to the time of a child’s birth, or were simply unaware that playing was strongly encouraged at the library!”

According to reports from the Aspen Foundation and the Pew Center for Research, the role of the public library is shifting from being information provider to community builder. The most recent state statistics, available from the Connecticut State Library, show that though there is a state wide decline in circulation of library materials there is a definite increase in attendance of library programs and use of library computer systems, networked and wireless.

“Libraries are used as much now as they have ever been, though not all this use is reflected in the traditional borrowing of library materials. Circulation has declined in the last five years after spiking upward during the recent recession. Yet circulation is still up over 15 percent in the last 25 years,” said Tom Newman, Library Specialist for the Office of Library Development. “It is clear that even though the borrowing of library materials is in a decline, the use of libraries is not. In particular, attendance at library programs has increased substantially in recent years. Libraries are offering more programs because communities want libraries to provide a gathering place for cultural and intellectual events.”

This trend shows up at the Clark Memorial Library in many forms, although unlike the majority of Connecticut’s libraries Clark’s circulation increased by 11% over the past year.

“We are busy both ways. Since we joined the LION/Libraries Online Consortium we are able to offer electronic books and digital magazines while borrowing items from our sister libraries. Since 2012 we have just about tripled our program and activity offerings for community members to engage with, connect with one another, and grow,” said Clark’s director, Melissa Canham-Clyne.

The library offers ongoing groups for needle crafters, writers, families, film buffs, and readers. Additionally a wide variety of programs are offered throughout the year. Recent presentations included dog cognition, cookie decorating while watching the movie Elf, and navigating financial strategies to pay for college. The library is also involved in the Heart of Bethany, a collaboration of Bethany institutions and residents working together to build upon the community strengths of the town.

Currently the library is seeking applications from community members who would like to serve on its governing board, the Bethany Library Association/BLA.

“Our mission is straightforward,” said Buff Bachenheimer, long time BLA member and chair of the library’s Governance committee. “We work to ensure the full measure of resources, service, and access befitting a great public library through encouraging community investment in it all its forms.”

The Bethany Library Association meets once month on the fourth Tuesday evening of the month. Committees include Governance, Development, and Building and Grounds. Members help on two committee of their choosing and are expected to attend the monthly meetings. The Board is vital to developing the strategic goals of the library and for certifying that these are implemented in a manner which best serves the community.

Breaking with its tradition, the Bethany Library Association has created two teen seats on the Board. Teens will be given the same rights and responsibilities of the adult members. However, the length of a teen’s term is one year and can be renewed one time.

“This is a great way for teens to help shape both the future of the library and to learn about how a nonprofit runs. It also fulfills community service requirements,” said Bachenheimer. “We are also excited to have the chance to see the world through their eyes.”

Adult members serve for a two year term with the opportunity to renew twice. For applications or more information, visit the library’s website, www.bethanylibrary.org, or come in for a tour of the library. There is no residency requirement but applicants are asked to demostrate their connection and interest in the Bethany community.

The new year also brings new opportunities for artists and Minecrafters. After at least a decade of planning and fundraising Clark is now configured to offer exhibition space to visual artists, sculptors, textile and fabric artists, photographers, and jewelers. Liz Scott, a Bethany Library Association member and a local artist, has nurtured the project for most of that time and is now chairing the Arts@Clark committee. The committee is now able to review applications to exhibit, and is also looking for folks to participate on the committee. Applications to exhibit can be found on the library’s website, www.bethanylibrary.org, or at Clark itself, located at 538 Amity Road. Amateurs, students, professionals, and groups are encouraged to apply to display their work. To volunteer on the Arts@Clark committee email artsatclark@gmail.com.

“A library is about connecting people to cultural opportunities and exposing individuals to new perspectives. Art does that as well. Knowledge of the world is not restricted to the written word. It also grows from experiencing the world,” Canham-Clyne said. “If we don’t strive to provide a culturally enriched library, we are not serving the lifelong needs of the community.”

The appetite for culturally engaging programs is apparent. Last month the library offered its first Open Mic night, organized by Bethany Library Association member and journalist Christopher Arnott. Arnott is also known for his work of organizing public performances in New Haven. The robust participation in the event may factor into the Bethany Library Association’s decision on how often to act as a venue for life performance art.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who came out for the night. We had poets, musicians, storytellers, writers, and a communal drumming circle,” said Barbara Haag, President of the Bethany Library Association. “There is definite interest and need for people to have the space to share performing arts. I know we will only grow into offering more of thse opportunities.”

And culture comes in all mediums and styles, including digital. Soon the library will begin to offer real time opportunities for gamers to experience the culture and fun of Minecraft. Through the LION consortium, the library will have access to a dedicated, private server to transport patrons directly into Minecraft’s cubic universe of building new worlds and surviving such obstacles as feeding oneself. All activity on the LION Minecraft server will be supervised and moderated in order to lessen the work of “griefers” (people who tear down others gamers’ buildings), keep interactions friendly and clean, and to prevent other inapprobriate behavior. The moderators will be library staff. Minecraft players will need to register at the library to be able to play using the LION server. Play may be done at the library or remotely once a person is registered.

“Why Minecraft?” asks Canham-Clyne. “Minecraft is a game emphasing creativity, collaboration, problem solving, and understanding of spatial relations. It is simple and inviting. Some have called it a virtual makerspace. And, it is fun!”