Matthew Carter’s summer hideaway is not in the Hamptons, the Catskills or on the Jersey Shore. It does not require a car ride or a small fortune to keep up.
Mr. Carter, 32, an adjunct professor of music at the City College of New York, simply holes up at the Inwood Library in northern Manhattan with his research books. It is quiet, air-conditioned and open every day.
“I’m a total leech of public libraries,” he said. “It’s my summer hangout. It’s where I spend the majority of my time, and where I’m most productive.”
It is also a place where he has a lot of company.
Far from becoming irrelevant in the digital age, libraries in New York City and around the nation are thriving: adding weekend and evening hours; hiring more librarians and staff; and expanding their catalog of classes and services to include things like job counseling, coding classes and knitting groups.
No longer just repositories for books, public libraries have reinvented themselves as one-stop community centers that aim to offer something for everyone. In so doing, they are reaffirming their role as an essential part of civic life in America by making themselves indispensable to new generations of patrons.
Story time at libraries in Manhattan and the Bronx is now so popular that ticket lines must be formed, while coding classes have waiting lists in the thousands. A library in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, runs a fully equipped recording studio that can be reserved at no cost; many libraries in the borough lend laptops and portable wireless devices to those without internet access at home.
In Queens, which has a large South Asian population, a library in Jamaica offers sewing classes in Bengali for Bangladeshi women, some of whom now earn a living as seamstresses. Libraries in Flushing and South Jamaica teach social media skills to small-business owners. Nationally, public libraries are redefining their mission at a time when access to technology, and the ability to use it, is said to deepen class stratification, leaving many poor and disadvantaged communities behind. Sari Feldman, president of the American Library Association, said library workers had shown people how to file online for welfare benefits and taught classes in science, technology, engineering and math to children who could not afford to go to summer camps.
“All libraries are having a renaissance,” Ms. Feldman said. “We’re seeing that libraries have really stepped up to take on roles that are needed in a community.”
New York City’s 217 public libraries have rebounded in the past two years amid an infusion of city dollars, after years of budget and service cuts. An outpouring of support from library lovers has served as a reminder that the institutions are a crucial part of many lives.
A recent contest to recognize neighborhood libraries underscored their vitality: 18,766 online and paper nominations were submitted in one month, up from about 4,300 when the yearly competition was started in 2013. Nearly every library was nominated at least once. Some received hundreds of nods.
One young man wrote that he was homeless when he started going to the Arverne branch of the Queens Library, where the staff not only helped him study to become a security guard but also hired him to work as a mentor to teenagers. Today, that man, Richard Johnson, has two jobs and his own apartment.
“Ever since becoming a member of the Queens Library, I have been bettering my life,” he wrote in his statement.
The city’s three library systems — the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library — have intensified their efforts to mobilize the public. An exhibit at the New York Public Library’s landmark building on Fifth Avenue last year highlighted Andrew Carnegie’s 1901 gift of $5.2 million to build a network of city libraries, in a pointed reminder that the city had promised, in return, to pay for their operation and upkeep.
In the past two years, more than 250,000 people, including the author Judy Blume and the musician Patti Smith, have signed on to a letter campaign in support of the libraries. Library workers have held story time on the steps of City Hall, and showed up at budget hearings in bright orange T-shirts emblazoned with the words: “Keep Investing in Libraries, Keep Investing in New Yorkers.”