When Bob Chupick started playing the ukulele, it didn’t take long for him to come to a stark realization.
“I tried it for a week and wasn’t very good at it,” Chupick said.
Fortunately, the 71-year-old Bexley resident wasn’t out any money; the Bexley Public Library gave him a free trial run.
The four-stringed Hawaiian instrument is far from the only nontraditional item available at the library. Telescopes, board games and even Roku streaming TV devices make up the library’s ever-expanding catalog.
Like numerous central Ohio libraries, Bexley library officials view such offerings as part of its mission to keep up with the ever-changing needs of its community. The items offer patrons a chance to learn a new skill or borrow something they might need to use only once.
“These nontraditional items are the new ways to stay in the mind of the patrons and the community,” said Ben Heckman, Bexley’s library director. “For a lot of folks, the library is the first place you come to when you want to learn something new.”
No longer are libraries simply a repository for books, CDs and DVDs. In recent years, libraries have begun to revamp their offerings with light-therapy lamps, record players and even artwork.
“It’s been a trend on the upswing,” said Canaan Faulkner, public relations manager at the Grandview Heights Public Library.
The Grandview Heights library reintroduced vinyl records into its collection in 2009 when the format was in the midst of a resurgence. Since then, it has added three portable turntables for patrons to play the roughly 200 records available.
Patrons can make music of their own by checking out acoustic guitars and ukuleles, which come with tuners and music books. The instruments are meant to introduce music education to young adults, Faulkner said.
At Worthington Libraries, patrons can check out air-quality monitors, auto-code readers, car jump-starters and camping tents and gear.
Internet mobile hotspots also are popular items available at several regional libraries, including Worthington, Bexley, the Delaware County District Library and the Westerville Public Library.
Westerville even houses a collection of 400 pieces of visual art that it lends to patrons for 28 days at a time.
The offering is popular with real-estate agents staging properties they would like to sell, said Thomas Sharpe, administrative assistant for the library’s marketing department. But other patrons also borrow paintings to spruce up their living space if they are having company or simply want a temporary change of scenery.
“The cool thing about libraries is each one caters to their community in a different way,” Sharpe said. “We’re so much more than books.”
The Columbus Metropolitan Library system does not currently offer such services, said spokesman Ben Zenitsky, but its cardholders are able to check out materials and access services at numerous other central Ohio libraries that do.
Jennifer Slate Grischkan borrowed a ukulele and board games from Bexley for her two children, Noah, 11, and Kate, 7. She praised the library for making it possible for families such as hers to try out new things for free.
“It’s great that our library gives us all sorts of reasons to keep coming back and experimenting with new forms of entertainment,” said Slate Grischkan, 43.
The trend is hardly unique to public libraries.
The Packard Library at the Columbus College of Art & Design lends skulls, mannequins and virtual-reality viewers for smartphones to its students, faculty and staff. Most of the items assist students with projects for design and illustration classes, but the library also lends light-therapy lamps, which can help students overcome the winter doldrums.
“We’re not just books or videos or music,” said Leslie Jankowski, director of library services at CCAD. “It’s really trying to capture collections that would be relevant to what they’re studying.”
At most libraries, the policy for borrowing such unusual items tends to be the same as borrowing a hardcover book: Patrons can check it out for a standard period of time and renew it two or three times if no one else is on a waiting list for it.
More often that not, though, the waiting list tends to be significant.
Chupick and his 62-year-old wife, Gail, experienced that when trying to borrow both telescopes available at the Bexley library. When they eventually got them after several weeks, they took a trip to Gail’s parents’ large rural property to spy on hawks, herons and songbirds.
The couple also has borrowed board games and bird-watching kits.
“It’s super-fun,” Gail Chupick said of the offerings.
Bob Chupick said he relishes the chance to have new experiences with his wife without breaking the bank.
And who knows? Maybe the time will come to take another crack at the ukulele.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a quality instrument,” Chupick said. “I tried my best, but maybe I expected too much too soon.”