There's a strange sound emerging from some Pennsylvania libraries. It's not the sound of pages turning or scanners scanning—it's the distinctive dainty, nimble strum that comes from a ukulele. Jeremy Hartley of the Centre Daily Times writes that a group of libraries in the central part of the state is working to make ukuleles available to one and all for checkout.
With the help of a local ukulele club, the Allegheny Ukulele Kollective, players can check out an instrument along with a bag that contains a tuner and an instruction book in libraries across Pennsylvania. Hartley writes that the program, which is already live in four libraries, will eventually encompass 32 regional libraries in Centre, Bedford, Blair and Cambria Counties.
The program doesn't stop there: Each library that offers a ukulele will also contain a ukulele-playing librarian. On its website, the Kollective writes that it will train at least one librarian per site so that people who check out the instruments will have someone to help them with the basics. Amazingly, it's not the only uke program in the United States. Early last year, a ukulele lending program went into effect in Omaha, Nebraska, after librarians decided that the instruments were inexpensive and portable enough for checkout.
If the idea of libraries checking out objects instead of books sounds odd to you, you're well behind the times. As communities evolve and libraries become even more important gathering places and information centers, more and more are offering seemingly offbeat items for checkout. Wi-Fi hotspots are just the beginning. In Iowa Falls, Iowa, you can check out a bike or a pair of ice skates. States such as Indiana and Colorado offer state parks passes at local libraries. In Maine, homeowners can check out an energy efficiency monitor. In Alaska, it's easy to borrow a polar bear pelt or a stuffed bird. And in Virginia, library patrons can check out people, not books, in 20-minute increments to learn about their life experiences.
Lending objects beyond books doesn't just make libraries more fun—it keeps them relevant. The sound of a ukulele may make your mood a bit sunnier. But so will the knowledge that your local library can serve more than your need to read.