San Diego libraries are so much more than books


Maybe it’s a photo from your family trip to Disneyland, circa 1986 - the one where you are rocking your first pair of Mickey ears. Or that VHS tape of your 10th birthday party, the one where you grinned from ear-to-ear with a mouth full of braces and will only be revealed on a need-to-know basis. Or your battered cassette of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album, which had five No. 1 Billboard hits including the ever-popular “Smooth Criminal” and holds a certain amount of sentimental value.

These and other treasures can be saved from the technology graveyard thanks to the Memory Lab at the La Jolla-Riford Library, where patrons can use a host of gadgets to turn their various tapes, photos and discs to digital formats.

“What do libraries do? We provide access to information and access to things that are hard to get, and it appealed to us to think we could help members of the public preserve their important personal information that is in danger of being lost,” said La Jolla-Riford branch manager Shaun Briley. “These are the most important objects and artifacts for a lot of people. It’s their history.”

And memories are just the beginning. From Rosetta Stone language lessons to child-development toys and Wi-Fi hotspots, the collection of items, programs and services you can check out from the city of San Diego libraries goes way beyond books. If you can dream it, the library can probably provide it. Here is a guide to the treasure-trove you can unlock with just your library card.

The Memory Lab

Launched on April 1, the Memory Lab became an instant hit with patrons, who booked up all of the available April appointments within 24 hours of its opening. Inside the lab, a volunteer can help you convert VHS or Beta tapes, audio cassettes, floppy discs, photos, photo negatives or slides to a digital format. You can take your newly digitized materials home on a thumb drive or the data can be stored on the cloud.

“People will gasp when they see one of their old photos come to life from a format they thought was lost forever,” said Briley, who was inspired by the Memory Lab that opened last year at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. “Technology has changed with frightening regularity for the last 20 or 30 years, so a lot of people who are coming to us have been through at least one (format) change before. The hope with digital is that it is a format that should last and last.”

(The Memory Lab at the La Jolla-Riford Library is free and available Sunday through Friday by prior appointment only. Call 858.552.1657 to reserve a time.)

Rosetta Stone language lessons

You have probably seen the Rosetta Stone ads and mall kiosks, where the promise of foreign language fluency seems exotic and easy. In the real world, three-month Rosetta Stone subscriptions start at $64, with the fees going up from there. With your San Diego library card, you can get those same classes for free, and you can keep plugging away no matter how long it takes for you to master the fine art of Farsi.

The library’s Rosetta Stone program offers online courses in 30 languages, including Spanish, Swedish and Swahili. There are also two English courses, one for British English and one for the American version. If you don’t have an online library account already, you will need a current library card to set one up. Once you have enrolled in your Rosetta Stone course, you can log in remotely and expand your language horizons from pretty much anywhere.

“People are so surprised to find out how far we’ve moved beyond books,” said Robyn Gage-Norquist, supervising librarian for support services. “They are really surprised by how many of our services can be accessed from home or from wherever they are.”

(You can find the Rosetta Stone courses on the library’s website. Click on the eCollection tab, the Articles & Databases link, then the Education and Language tab.)

Gale Courses

Speaking of expanded horizons, the library’s eCollection also includes the skill-building, career-improving, passion-stoking offerings of the Gale Courses. Through the Gale Courses, you can take online classes in everything from Microsoft Word 2007 and Introduction to PowerPoint 2013 to medical coding, fiction writing, project management and beginning guitar-playing.

The instructor-led courses generally run for six weeks with 12 assignments and interactive discussion areas, and there are no limits to the number of courses you can take.

The library also offers an online high school diploma and career certification programs, along with SAT and GRE tests. Check out the Services tab on the library website for more information.

(You can find the Gale Courses on the library’s website. Click on the eCollection tab, the Articles & Databases link, then the Education and Language tab.)

Bug kits, hotspots and more

What’s that creepy-crawly thing in your kitchen? Check out a free LifeScanner bug collection kit from any of the city’s 36 branch libraries, pack your insect interloper in a tube and return your kit to the library.

It is then mailed to the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics in Canada for DNA sequencing. From there, you and your bug will become part of the Catalog of Life@ the San Diego Public Library, an ambitious program to catalog San Diego’s vast assortment of insect life.

There is more learning where that came from. At the North Park Library, patrons can check out First 5 Backpacks filled with educational toys. The Teen Lab at the Valencia Park/Malcolm X Library has a Wi-Fi hotspot lending program where teens can check out a hotspot to use outside the library for a period of three months. And on the third Saturday of the month from 2 to 4 p.m., the Central Library offers Bike Kitchen Walk-Up Service, where bike owners can get access to the library’s shop-grade bicycle tools and repair assistance from local professionals.

And if you are in the mood to dabble, check out the May 20 “How-To Festival,” where seven branch libraries will offer free lessons in such diverting topics as “How to develop your intuition,” “How to dance the Electric Slide” and “How to make sweet potato pie.” For a guide to all library activities, go to the library’s website and click on the Programs & Events tab. It’s a good read.

“I want people to think about the library as, ‘This is a place where I can go and there are no limits to what I can learn,’” said library director Misty Jones. “I want people to think of us first when they are looking for something cool to do on the weekend or something cool to do at night. I want people to pay attention to what we’re doing because we’re on to something.”

Twitter: @karla_peterson;