Books and beyond

How Chico's library is reinventing itself

Brenda Crotts, head librarian of the Chico branch of the Butte County Library, helps a patron.

Brenda Crotts, head librarian of the Chico branch of the Butte County Library, helps a patron.

Photo by Brittany Waterstradt

Butte County Library, Chico
1108 Sherman Ave.
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday-Monday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.

Did you know that patrons of the Chico library can check out seeds?

Yes, seeds, those dry little embryos that miraculously turn into living plants. The library has a collection of them that patrons can plant in their gardens or flower beds. In return, they are asked to let some of the plants go to seed so the stockpile can be replenished.

The seed library is just one of the many ways the Chico branch of the Butte County Library is expanding its services. If you haven’t visited it in a while, you may be surprised by all it offers. Gone are the days when the library was mostly a repository of books, newspapers and magazines and librarians were enforcers of a code of silence. Now many libraries are public gathering places that hum with conversation and patrons interact with the library and each other in diverse ways.

Indeed, they even can go to the library without leaving home. The Butte County Library website ( is a portal to a wide range of services. One can download audiobooks, e-books and e-magazines, search several databases, search for articles (InfoTrac has more than 136 million of them!), look up song lyrics, even download car-repair information from its Chilton link. And that’s not all—far from it.

Printer not working? Send your print job to the library, and someone will do it for you, for a dime a page.

Looking for work? Go to JobScout, which can help you craft a résumé and otherwise assist you.

Need help downloading e-books? The site has the appropriate links to all the popular readers and tablets. And if that doesn’t work, the library offers free hands-on workshops twice a week.

The digital library is a wonderful addition to the traditional library, but it doesn’t substitute for the personal touch staff and volunteers offer. One can’t fully experience the magic of a library without visiting one.

Nothing suggests that magic more than the children’s section, on the right as one enters the Chico library. Its colorful walls and floors and friendly reading areas are immediately attractive, and it’s gratifying to see so many children enjoying themselves with books.

For years the library has been offering Storytime readings, often with crafts play, to children of all ages. So many attended—about 120 on one occasion, head librarian Brenda Crotts said—staff had to move Storytime into the meeting room on the west end of the building. (Readings happen nearly every day, and a full schedule is posted on the library’s website.)

Just past the library check-out station is the ever-expanding collection of movies on DVD, and a little farther on is the similarly growing collection of music CDs. Fifteen years ago the library had neither movies nor music; today its collections are large and getting larger.

One recent addition is the Veterans Resource Center, located near the reference desk in the middle of the building. Funded by a state grant and staffed by a library employee, it directs vets to where they can receive the benefits they deserve and the services they need. It opened on Feb. 2, and by the time the month ended it had served 76 people, Crotts said.

Perhaps the most consistently busy part of the library is the public computer section, where folks who don’t own computers can get access to the Internet. Its 12 stations often are all in use, with several people waiting to get on.

“We get a lot of homeless here using the computers,” Crotts said, mentioning in particular a man who lived in the Torres Community Shelter. With staff assistance, he researched job possibilities, crafted a résumé and secured a job. He’s since left the shelter and moved into an apartment, she said.

Once a month, a library staffer, Leslie Botsford, does outreach at the shelter so guests there know what services the library offers. “Close to 100 people turn out for each visit,” Crotts said.

Some 53,827 people have library cards for Chico, and last year they visited the library 370,705 times. Countywide, the six branch libraries had 648,050 unique visits, according to figures Crotts provided. That makes the Butte County Library easily the most intensively used local government resource. Your humble library card is worth its weight in gold, and then some.