In an interview granted to The Newtown Bee prior to his resignation Monday, September 16, former C.H. Booth Library Director Shawn Fields shared comments he had received from the public regarding the future of the town library.
Three focus groups hosted by Mr Fields in August to elicit ideas on changes the public would or would not like to see at the library provided limited input, he said.
Very few of those who spoke at the sessions on August 15, August 24, and August 27 related to Mr Fields’ question of what might the C.H. Booth Library look like 15 years in the future, responses that Mr Fields had said would help him and the Board of Trustees fashion a vision statement, and ultimately, a three-year strategic plan.
This past Monday morning, however, Mr Fields said that he was neither pleased nor disappointed with the lack of response at the public meetings. The point of the process was to receive input. A focus group, he said, is a means of getting people’s individual ideas.
“There are no wrong answers,” Mr Fields said.
“The point of a vision statement,” he said, “is that you sit down and look at all of the comments, look at what’s happening in the profession, and talk to experts.”
Beyond the focus groups, Mr Fields said that he had received many comments from board members, staff, members of the Friends of the C.H. Booth Library, and the public, through interactions with the public, telephone, e-mail, and letters. A compilation of those comments was provided to The Newtown Bee, and Mr Fields noted that people “run the gamut” in ideas, most of which are very interesting. Balancing out comments received requesting few changes were comments welcoming modifications to the present-day library.
“The physical ‘plant’ of the C.H. Booth Library is beautiful. I don’t want to see too many changes made to it (although the heating and air conditioning system could use some work)” was one comment on the side of satisfaction with today’s library.
“At this time the library serves as the intellectual center of the town. We are responsible for programs that educate and inform and provide space to groups for a wide range of discussion topics. All these activities should be continued and enhanced,” noted another, and more than one comment described the library as the heart of the community, reflecting views on what is right with the town library.
“I read about some of the changes you are making and considering and they all sound fantastic (if nothing else, the fact that you are upsetting some people means you must be doing something right)! Our family are big users of the library and share in our vision of celebrating all that is right with it while modernizing the facility and process (and staff) to keep it relevant,” was another comment apparently responding to recent concerns raised by the public about changes to the layout and staff. “I believe that you are on the right [t]rack in trying to find ways to improve the library,” said another.
No attribution for any comments was provided with the compilation of vision statements.
Improved and innovative technology are in the future for C.H. Booth Library, according to some respondents.
“Magazines will only exist in digital format. Readers will be stationed to support those that have no method of access.”
“More computers and perhaps some additional genealogy websites would be appreciated by amateur genealogists.”
“Since technology is changing the methodology of accessing information, both old and new, we will have to be adequately wired to accommodate these innovations.”
“Expand audiobooks library with more best sellers.”
“Adopt new technologies/develop online presence. (Wisely. No need to chase every shiny object.)”
Providing remote access to collections through digital downloadable content and apps, and remote access to recorded and/or live programs was suggested. Interactive, live online program opportunities, use of social media to communicate with patrons, apps to facilitate in-house and remote access to collections, as well as GPS navigation apps to find books and other resources in the library could be the wave of the future.
A “roving reference” in which staff uses tablets to provide patron support throughout the building was yet another suggestion for upgrading technology at the library in the future.
“Bring CHB to patrons in their homes, on their mobile devices. CHB lives where they do. The virtual branch offers a full range of resources — collections, programs, fellowship” was yet another suggestion.
Fellowship was seen as a big player in the library’s future by several who responded.
“The library will be more of a social meeting place providing conference rooms (a more secure and pleasant Starbucks), media access, movies, interactive games, interactive age specific electronic toys and games. Coffee, beverages, and snacks will be available.”
“In 15 years,” commented another, “I see the library becoming more of a meeting place cum community center.”
More programs for families and teenagers, as well as evening programs for younger children, more “One Book, One Town” reading programs, more school interaction, public meeting rooms, movies, lectures, game nights, and a café or luncheonette are among the suggestions that will help C.H. Booth Library move toward a future as a community center.
As a community center, the library might find itself lacking quiet space. Looking into the future, defined space within the library for home-based, telecommuting, or freelance workers would be needed. This space would be equipped like a small business resource center and staff would be trained to support the services.
Classrooms for tutors and students could be set aside and double as quiet study areas.
A broader, more current collection in all genres was seen for the future library.
A Smaller Library?
Some respondents looked into the crystal ball and foresaw a shrinking of the library as is known.
“Small collections of books will be available, different at every library, with the exception of top 20 best sellers. Books will be shipped from library to library as requests require,” read one comment.
“Attendance will shrink by 30 to 50 percent, due to patrons’ ability to obtain materials and information without actually entering the library,” predicted another, with an upside: “This reduction will provide space for meeting rooms, coffee bars, luncheonettes, etc.”
The compilation also included remarks that touched upon the controversial issues that were raised publicly in the weeks since Mr Fields became director on July 1.
“The soul of this library is its staff. We need to reward the people that we have and recruit more of the same,” was one comment.
“Keep the library as the heart of the community — no rapid changes esp. in personnel.”
“Work with your Board and Friends [of the C.H. Booth Library].”
“It’s a people business — if there is controversy and conflict it needs to be resolved so both sides or all sides are heard.”
“The library needs to have a seamless transition into the present and future. The physical layout of the building already does this and the staff have worked hard to do this in all other areas as well.”
More ominous was the remark, “I would caution you in making any more staff changes. The staff are a big reason why we walk through that door.”
More succinctly, another had advised, “Listen a lot. Everything doesn’t have to happen in one or three years — just keep moving ahead.”
On Monday, September 16, Mr Fields briefly responded to those concerns made at the focus group sessions and at the September 10 board meeting that openly criticized the board, himself, and perceived changes to the C.H. Booth Library.
Ideas for changes to the physical makeup of the library were only part of an internal process with the staff for discovering what might work, he said, and had never been intended for presentation to the public at this time.
“People turned it into their own before I seriously talked about it with the board,” Mr Fields said. “What you see in the paper and in public sessions is the minority of the people I’ve met,” he said.
As of Thursday, September 19, the library Board of Trustees had not yet announced an acting director for C.H. Booth Library.