ITHACA, N.Y. — The Tompkins County Public Library has added a couple of new passes to its Library of Things — a collection of items the public can rent out free like museum and park passes, tool kits, and umbrellas. Now, members of the public can check out family and individual passes to the YMCA.

With the passes, individuals or families receive full use of the YMCA’s facilities, including entry to the pool, fitness center and classes. The passes are one way to expand access to people within the community, said Gregg Houk, the membership director for the YMCA of Ithaca and Tompkins County.

He said the passes give community members a chance to go to places, like the YMCA, that they might have otherwise not visited. After visiting, he said, people can decide if they’d like to make a bigger commitment to places like the YMCA by purchasing a personal membership.

“They can get to state parks, get to the Y, to these other opportunities they might not be able to get to,” he said. “It gives them the chance to experience that and potentially pursue having regular access to those services.”

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The library chose to partner with the YMCA because the two organizations have worked together in the past and because the YMCA is a community-based organization, said Jennifer Palmer Schlossberg, head of access and circulation services at the Tompkins County Public Library.

Schlossberg said including the YMCA passes in the Library of Things will give the community more options to be healthy. 

“There are a lot of great programs offered at the Y that we were interested in,” she said.

The Library of Things has other passes and objects in its catalog, too. Library card holders can check out a New York Empire pass, which allows individuals to park their cars at most forests, beaches and trails operated by New York State Parks and State Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

(Becky Mehorter/The Ithaca Voice)

The library also holds passes to the Museum of the Earth and Cayuga Nature Center. The collection includes objects like umbrellas, tool kits, chargers, games and calculators available to check out. Outside of the Library of Things, library-card holders can use their cards to get into the Sciencenter.

“One of our focuses here (at the library) has been removing barriers and expanding access,” Schlossberg said. “That’s both here in the library, with our fine-free policies and changing policies on how to get library cards, but also expanding access to other things outside of the library.”

Related: Tompkins County Public Library goes fine free

The Library of Things was started at TCPL approximately 12 years ago with a collection of nontraditional print materials like e-readers, Schlossberg said. She said people started asking for resources like phone chargers and reading glasses and that’s when the library staff decided to create an official collection. Museum and park passes followed next.

Schlossberg said the main issue was figuring out how to make nontraditional objects like passes secure for travel but that the library works to broadening its collection on request, sometimes in creative ways, such as using a VHS tape case to house a calculator and a book-on-CD case for charging cables.

“Libraries are really geared for handling books and tapes and CDs and when you start handling other materials, it starts to get a little weird,” she said.

Schlossberg said that libraries can get entrenched in traditional practices instead of focusing on new ways to serve the community.

“We really try to listen to what our patrons are saying,” she said. “The previous (library) director, Susan Curry, said, ‘If you can put a barcode on it, you can circulate it.’”

Schlossberg said the push to widen the Library of Things is part of the public library’s mission to level the playing field in the community. She said the library is a place where community members receive the same resources regardless of socioeconomic status and that the Library of Things extends the scope of that mission to outside of the physical library.

“You can check out one of these great passes and go to the Museum of the Earth and you have the same experience as someone who paid to get in,” she said. “We’re the great equalizer in our community. I feel like that’s our purpose.”

Becky Mehorter

Becky Mehorter is an intern at the Ithaca Voice. She is a rising senior at Ithaca College with majors in journalism and Spanish.