THE transformation of libraries into 21st Century information centres has created an upsurge in visitors.
Gone are the days when this most staid of public institutions was merely a forbidding citadel housing shelf after shelf of books.
The number of books being borrowed is down, but library visitors are increasing as never before, and it is all because of new technology.
In today's modern library there are more than just books. You can borrow the latest DVD or video, access the internet, get to grips with a PlayStation and, if you are very lucky, even relax on a sofa as you listen to stimulating piped music. It goes almost without saying that you can still also borrow a book too.
The transformation started long before the launch of the People's Network, a scheme that provides free computer and internet access in public libraries across Wales, but this has served to speed up the process.
Dowlais Library is the most successful site in Merthyr Tydfil from the computer point of view, helping to push up visitor numbers by as much as 10 to 15% this year. It also runs classes for people to try their hand at using computers.
Head of libraries Geraint James said yesterday, ``We are helping a lot of people and hopefully we will help a lot more to get in touch with the cyber world.
``But there are still avid readers out there and we need to encourage these regular readers and do more with reader development. Things are not as they were 10 to 15 years ago but in some ways they are better. Computerisation has given us real opportunities with our readers, particularly in finding suitable books.
``Computerisation has certainly taken Merthyr libraries by storm, with the result that there are almost 80 personal computers in the county borough's three main libraries for public advice and information. We are hoping to set up classes for youngsters to write their own computer programmes.
``The whole reading market has changed and our readers have changed with it. Children whose mothers read Mills and Boon may be more interested in True Crime. What we found 20 years ago was that one person would borrow 10 Mills and Boons but their grandchildren may now be borrowing only one or two books. …