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Once upon a time, people went to the library to check out books or have a quiet place to read or study. 

These days they also can be places for more lively activities.  

During a recent session of BLAST, an after-school program at the Britt Public Library, children in grades K-5 bounced around to dance music in a large multipurpose room.

"Libraries are supposed to be quiet, but not today," said  Jared Wingent, owner of MoJo Productions, which provided music and a light show for the dance party. 

Although the number of books and other items being checked out at the Britt library has decreased over the past decade, traffic at has remained steady thanks to programs like BLAST that keep people coming through the door, according to Linda Friedow, the city's library director. 

"We have shifted to being more of a community activity center for Britt," she said. 

The same thing is happening at the Forest City Public Library, according to its director, Christa Cosgriff.

"Libraries are not just for readers," she said.

The meeting room at the Forest City library is in frequent use by are residents, such as senior citizens meeting with representatives from the Senior Health Insurance Information Program. 

Elected officials and candidates for political office also have town hall meetings there. 

English as a Second Language classes recently began meeting at the Forest City library. 

The library also has children's programs, including holiday-themed parties. 

Creative Spirits hosted a painting class for kids at the library on Feb. 10. 

Cosgriff read a story to the children and then they will each do their own acrylic painting with the word "Love" on it. 

This year's Valentine's Day party for children took place the following Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon.  

Toddler Story Time for preschoolers at 10:30 a.m. every Thursday. The children not only have a story read to them, but also play games and do crafts. 

Parents who bring their kids stay with them.

"It's a place to come, especially on cold days when you can get out of the house," said Hilary Rittgers of Forest City.

Rittgers said her two preschoolers enjoy reading books, so they choose new ones to check out while they are at the library.  

At the Britt library, programs are designed to spark an interest are fill a need in the community, according to Friedow. 

Story hour helps prepare young children for kindergarten, while BLAST, which is held one Wednesday a month, gives children somewhere to have some fun after school on West Hancock early dismissal days. 

"A lot of these kids don't have a place to go," Friedow said. 

Anywhere from 10 to 50 children come to BLAST. Past activities have included scavenger hunts, movies, crafts and outdoor activities.

"I like all the activities they have," said Jackson Redig, 11. 

He said the dance party is his favorite so far because he likes to dance -- and pizza was served afterwards. 

"I liked the music and the dancing and the pizza," said his sister, Taylor Redig, 8. 

Another popular program for kids at the Britt library is Legos Club. One of the clubs is for grades K-2 and the other is for grades 3-5. 

"We give them a challenge," Friedow said. 

One recent challenge was for the children to build a dragon and then tell a story about it. 

Legos Club teaches the kids how to work together and follow directions, according to Friedow. The activity also sparks their imaginations, she said. 

Brody Dixon, 8, said he loves Legos Club because "building with Legos is my favorite thing in the world."

The Britt library also has programs that appeal to adults.

Shannon Nielsen, program director at the library, said they've brought in people to talk about the Amish lifestyle because some library patrons like to read about it.

The library has also hosted programs by a performer from California who portrays everyone from Edgar Allan Poe to George Burns, a Celtic guitarist and a musician who plays an instrument from West Africa. 

Computers also bring people to small-town libraries.

The Forest City library has six public computer stations. There's no charge to use the computers, although patrons who want to print anything pay a fee per page. 

Cosgriff said one woman uses a library computer every year to write her Christmas letters. 

The library computers have two software programs that make learning fun for small children, according to Cosgriff. 

These programs are so popular that the staff has to cover the computers on Thursday mornings so the little ones will participate in Story Time activities, she said.  

The library also has a large selection of DVDs. 

"People really like to watch the old movies and TV shows," Cosgriff said. 

People come to the library for lots of other reasons, including using the fax machine and making photocopies.

"We have such a variety of people coming in," Cosgriff said. "Every day is different."


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