At the Newark Free Library, there’s of course no shortage of books, audiobooks, DVDs and CDs to borrow. However, the newest item available for checkout might turn some heads.

The Friends of the Newark Free Library recently purchased seven ukuleles for the library. Right now, they’re being used for a free children’s class, but eventually they may be available for other library patrons to check out.

It’s all part of an effort to diversify the library’s offerings, according to library specialist Susan Montney.

“Libraries are struggling to stay relevant in today’s culture,” said Montney, who also uses a ukulele in her story time events at the library. “We’re looking for ways to reach other people and branch out.”

Long a staple of music education in Canada, ukuleles are starting to become popular in libraries around the United States, particularly because they’re a convenient and relatively easy instrument to learn, said Jane Luke, who’s teaching the Newark Free Library classes.

“The size helps a lot,” she said. “There’s only four strings, while a guitar has six.”

A retired social worker, Luke bought a ukulele on a trip oversees a decade ago. Two years ago, she found some fellow ukulelists in Newark, and they meet up regularly to play at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark.

Recently, she came to the library to offer her services to teach kids the instrument.

On Sunday, seven kids ranging in age from 6 to 13 met at the library for their fourth of six hour-long ukulele lessons. They practiced three songs they plan to perform for parents and their guests during their last class.

For the duration of the class, the kids can take the instruments home to practice.

“It’s fun and very enjoyable,” said 11-year-old Christopher Barry, who’s taking the classes along with siblings Alex, Jonathan and Catherine.

Alex, 13, said the siblings all play piano, but the ukulele is a fun new challenge.

“Piano requires more dexterity, but ukulele is more like muscle memory,” he said.

For Ella Bower, 11, the ukulele lessons are her first time learning a musical instrument.

“I like learning the new chords and making it into a song,” she said.

Her father, Tyson, said he’s enjoyed watching Ella’s face light up when she begins to master a song. The ukulele is the perfect instrument for her to learn on, he said.

“It’s small, it goes with you and it has a good sound,” he said. “It’s fantastic. I’m so glad my wife found these classes. It’s a really good opportunity.”

Montney said the library plans to offer another round of ukulele classes for kids, but the details haven’t yet been worked out. There’s also been interest in having adult classes, she added.

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