“Libraries have had to reinvent themselves,” says Betty Burton, adult programming director for the Vineyard Haven Library. “Technology has come so far, libraries are not just about books anymore. It’s about information.”
With the interest in printed matter on the decline, Ms. Burton decided in 2001 to launch an initiative that harkens back to the far distant past — human information dissemination. For the past 10 years she has hosted a series of evening talks, demonstrations, and performances featuring locals (and others) with knowledge and talent that they are happy to share with a receptive public.
The variety of the library’s programming is a testament to the diversity of the interests and life experience of our Island population. The month of October brought to the library experts in fields as varied as civil rights history, local wildlife, and DNA research (Ms. Burton led that talk herself). In November, library patrons will be treated to an evening of Broadway songs, a talk on space travel including a video and interactive demonstrations, and an exploration of Kabbalah, a mystical aspect of Judaism.
The month’s lineup starts next Wednesday with a program called Books and Ballads from Broadway. Vocalist Stephanie Miele of Falmouth, along with two accompanists, will present a repertoire of songs from shows based on books. The former professional singer, music teacher, and librarian will give a brief intro to a dozen or so songs. “I’ll tell a little about where the song came from, the composer, and the story behind it,” she says. Among the evening’s selection will be songs from “South Pacific,” “Showboat,” and “The Wizard of Oz.” She will also include a couple of songs about books such as “My Friend, the Dictionary” from “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
On the following Tuesday, educator Kathy Forrester will offer a brief glimpse of life in space. Ms. Forrester, who has supervised numerous school field trips to the Kennedy Space Center and has used talks and demonstrations about space travel as a learning tool during her 25-year career as a math and science teacher, presents an entertaining program about NASA and space travel, touching on the history and future of the program. The primary thrust of the talk will be the logistics of life in space.
“The most frequently asked question by both adults and kids is ‘How do you go to the bathroom in space?'” Ms. Forrester says. She will answer that question, as well as others, and provide audience members the opportunity to try actual exercises astronauts perform to prepare themselves for the handicaps and deprivations of space travel. The talk also includes a humorous video filmed by NASA astronauts.
Rounding out the November programming will be author Holly Nadler. The Island’s “Ghost Lady,” who gave a talk last spring on communicating with the dead, will veer off her usual supernatural course and speak on her recent experiences studying and practicing Kabbalah. Ms. Nadler, who says that she has “always been a ceaseless explorer spiritually,” took an eight-week course at the Kabbalah Center in Newton in 2004. She will talk about the ancient mystical tradition, which until relatively recently, had been shrouded in secrecy. She will also share stories of results she got from the practice.
Ms. Burton notes that in seeking speakers for the library’s Tuesday Night Talk Series she looks for something that would interest her. She is always on the lookout for experts, even approaching people on the boat and, in one case, the bus stop in Woods Hole (to a WHOI scientist who spoke last winter). She is particularly interested in offering more musical performances and cooking demos.
The talks often spur people to research the topics further. Ms. Burton notes that after her DNA talk two weeks ago she heard from an attendee who spent more than three hours later that evening poring over information on the internet.
She always tries to display relevant books at each talk. “There are so many incredible people who make themselves available,” she says. “I just want everyone to have this information.”
Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.