In the past year or so, in libraries across the country, you could have listened to a barbershop quartet, taken a class on English as a second language, learned needlepoint, had a sandwich and a cup of coffee, taken a yoga or Zumba class, attended a poetry reading, and learned some workforce development skills.

Your investment group could have met for a program, and you could have researched your next buy. You might have been able to get short-term child care while you did these things. Your older children could have taken part in after-school activities and homework help.

You could have also checked out a book or checked your email.

More communities are finding that it is beneficial to invest in a public library combined with community and learning centers. There is benefit in providing space for people to gather, to team with other groups, both nonprofits and individuals, to share a learning experience. Sometimes this is compared to a "community living room."

This doesn't mean that the library's mission of promoting literacy is forgotten. But as has been found with computers and the Internet in the library, people who are in the library tend to use the library for its "traditional" use as well.

If we are going to plan what Costa Mesa should have for library service, we should consider more than just traditional libraries. We should study which services can be brought together to benefit our community.

Here are some ideas passed on to me recently:

Maybe what we need is a "substation" to pay utility bills, buy stamps or drop off mail. Or maybe a place to get money orders or notary services.

Or maybe we want to provide a place for our teen population to gather to do homework and study, to surf the Internet in an atmosphere that appeals to them. That would mean planning a section of the library for them alone — which generally has not been done. Since the 1950s or so, children's sections have been designed, but teens have not been considered until recently.

At any rate, we need to seriously think about what we would like to have in a library, whether or not it is joined with a community center or expanded into a learning center. A four-year study of libraries in Canada by Tracey Jones-Grant, Kenneth Williment and Randy Gatley showed that libraries and the community benefit when the community is involved in the identification, development and delivery of library services.

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At the Technology Library

Learn how to download digital library books at the Costa Mesa Technology Library, 3033 S. Bristol St., Suite Q. Bring your e-reader, if you have one. If you don't have an iPad, Sony Reader, Nook or Kindle, but are considering getting one, you can try the library's e-readers that evening to see how easy it is. The event is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 25. For more information, call (714) 544-4431.

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At the Costa Mesa Donald Dungan Library

The Romance Book Club meets at 2 p.m. Oct. 24. For more information on all these programs at the Dungan Library, 1850 Park Ave., call the information desk at (949) 646-8845.

MARY ELLEN GODDARD produced this column on behalf of the Friends of Costa Mesa Libraries, the Costa Mesa Library Foundation and the three Costa Mesa branches of the Orange County Public Libraries.