The Week in Library Land: August 25 to August 31
There’s a natural ebb and flow to our library visits. We seem to alternate, a busy week, a quiet(er) week, a busy week, a quiet(er) week and on and on and on. This week we did 14 visits! Wow, that was a ton of driving and seeing so many libraries and meeting so many people, it was all pretty amazing.
The week started with a visit to the Morse Institute in Natick. We had a call with John Chrastka of EveryLibrary. We’re slowly but surely getting closer to finding a way to collaborate with this awesome group. Eventually we’ll have news to share, but not quite yet.
One of the coolest things about this meeting was a new feature the library just introduced: the ability to book study/meeting rooms online. This is something many libraries offer and it was great to see Natick (my town) hopping onto the bandwagon. It did, however, raise an issue that continues to vex us - the inconsistency of services available via library websites.
We get that here in Massachusetts (and elsewhere) libraries are local institutions. The way libraries reflect their communities is really great. What’s less great are a million different sites that offer such different services and experiences. It would be wonderful if there was some core set of capabilities that all library sites offered (based, of course, on the services a library actually provides). Booking study rooms is a good example, as is the ability to reserve museum passes. A lot of libraries are doing these things, but there are also many with sites seemingly from the 90s that don’t offer much in the way of functionality.
We understand that librarians aren’t web designers or developers. We know that providing an online experience necessarily takes a back seat to working with actual patrons in actual libraries. But come on, there must be a way to learn from outstanding sites, like this beautiful one from the Newbury Town Library.
It’s something we ought to look at more closely, and perhaps add to the criteria we use to rate libraries. We invite you to share your thoughts on the topic.
On Tuesday, there was a quick stop back at the Morse Institute (awesome) and then on to the beautiful Woburn Public Library. Once again, we were able to get one of their super comfortable study rooms (reservable online) to work quietly before a SharpOrange client meeting. It’s definitely one of our favorite libraries and one we refer to again and again when asked to name an outstanding library or one with cool features.
On Wednesday, we headed down to the southeastern part of the state to try to turn even more of Massachusetts orange!
The first stop was the Plainville Public Library. This is a smallish library from 1988 and serves a town of approximately 9,000 people. It’s a space that’s very full. The collection seemed par for the course (bolstered, as are all libraries in the Commonwealth, by interlibrary loans) and included a number of local history volumes and documents. The staff was very helpful. We chatted for a while as they showed me around and brought me to a table where I could work. A few minutes later, they brought over a book on the history of the town and library. It’s that kind of thoughtfulness that makes spending time in libraries - and with librarians - so wonderful. Library Land Score: 4.00.
Traveling from the Plainville to the Richards Memorial Library in North Attleboro takes just a few minutes by car, so I was there in a jiffy. The North Attleboro library is a nice little one from the 1890s with a few additions and renovations made over the years. When I asked about the history and how the library has evolved over time, I was directed to a helpful little display in the basement. It wasn’t fancy, but it really did show how the use of space has changed. It’s something I wish more libraries would do.
The oldest section of the library features the circulation desk, a reading room (totally lovely) and a reference area (packed to the rafters). The staff was really helpful. One thing that was kind of a bummer was the fact that you needed to ask at the desk for the wifi password. It’s something we just don’t get. Library Land Score: 3.36.
The Attleboro Public Library is a beautiful space. It’s a great example of a small city library. The old section’s two reading rooms (three if you include the marvelous old entryway) feature some amazing stonework. In the newer portion of the library there are a number of comfortable study rooms. It’s a great place to work.
Parking and transportation are issues that often come up in relation to libraries (as you’ll read about again later in this post) and Attleboro is no exception. There’s a large municipal lot right at the library but it’s a paid lot, bummer. But hold the phone (and parking app), what’s this? There is an entire row of spaces (probably near 50) that offer free, three-hour parking for library patrons. How awesome is that?
One of the coolest things that happened during the visit demonstrated just how terrific libraries are. Adam sent me a photo of a nearby restaurant where he had stopped for lunch. I showed the picture to a reference librarian and she was able to give me directions. It was better than Google! Library Land Score: 4.36.
The last library of the day was the Taunton Public Library. This library opened as a Carnegie library in 1909. Then the 60s happened. In the mid-60s the original configuration was radically altered. The sky-lighted rotunda was ripped out and replaced with a much less interesting one. An addition was added in the late 1970s but it, too, is worn. Taunton is a town of approximately 60,000 but you wouldn’t guess that by its library. It’s not so much that the space is a little tuckered out as it is an absence of vitality.
None of this is to say there aren’t interesting things about the library. The staff is lovely and were willing to spend time sharing the library’s history with us. There is also an effort underway to reinvigorate the teen section. Finding ways to get young people into the library is always a worthy goal and we wish the Taunton team the best as they undertake the effort! Library Land Score: 3.91.
While not a library, there was one more library-related activity to enjoy before we called it a day. The Massachusetts Library Association (MLA) was hosting a “meet and greet” with line dancing at Patriot Place in Foxboro. We had no idea what to expect when we walked into Six Strings but we quickly found the MLA group. What a fun time! Neither Adam nor I really knew what line dancing was (I imagined it was like square dancing) but it turns out the be a pretty structured set of steps that every dancer does on their own in a line with other dancers. It wasn’t really our cup of tea (or whiskey), but we enjoyed ourselves nevertheless. It was also really fun to chat with librarians in a more relaxed and social situation. Can’t wait for the next one!
On Thursday, we went back to Cape Cod wearing our consultant hats for some pretty exciting meetings. We started way out at the Brewster Ladies Library. We’d visited a few weeks prior and really enjoyed the library and learning about its history. In the case of this visit, we were asked to meet with the director and members of the board of trustees. They’re in the process of imagining and working toward a renovation and wanted to consult with us about some of the things we’ve seen over the course of our travels that might be relevant to their situation. If there’s one thing we love to do is to think about and talk about libraries. We really enjoyed the meeting and hope some of our ideas and insights were valuable to the team. Library Land Score: 4.00.
We were asked to do the same thing for the Hyannis Public Library and so went there later in the afternoon. This session was with a much larger group, which included members of the library staff, some of the trustees, representatives of the Friends, and the architect for their possible renovation. It was a very focused and very interesting discussion. They really zeroed in on what we’ve seen in terms of space utilization, examples of unusual uses for libraries, best practices, etc. Whenever we have conversations like this it becomes clear that we’ve amassed a lot of good information on what’s going on in libraries. We know we don’t come at the issue from the perspective of library professionals, but we can speak as well-informed and well-traveled patrons. Which, if you’re in the process of reimagining how a library might be used, is an important one to have. Library Land Score: 4.27.
Because we each had different plans for the latter part of the day, we had parked a car at the Wareham Public Library before it even opened. We now returned to reclaim the car and go our separate ways - but not before we visited the library. It’s a sleepy library - I was about to call it a little library, but it isn’t that small at all. We did a flying tour, walking through the various sections and checking out its features. A lot of the space felt underutilized and in some areas without patron activities, the lights were dimmed. The computers were seeing a lot of activity, but aside from that there was not a lot going on. One of the cooler things (IMHO) was a collection of WWII naval models. They brought to mind a similar collection owned by a family friend from my childhood. It was nice to have that memory jogged. Library Land Score: 3.55.
I went on my own to visit the Fall River Library as the final one of the day. I shouldn’t really say, “on my own,” because I met up with ace librarian, Jessamyn West. There’ll be a full review of this library in the future, but let me just say that this was an unexpected and impressive gem of a library. The external architecture is pretty amazing and the interior is wonderful. We sat and chatted on a mezzanine overlooking the main hall of the library. There were cases of geological specimens around us and an amazing art collection. (There is a self-guided tour of the art that I wish I’d done.)
The physical space is only one element of a library and in Fall River there were many other things that stood out. The collection is very large, and includes items that - were it not for the library’s ample stacks - might have been weeded elsewhere. There are a few areas for young people. The children’s section was cool, with trophies from different academic competitions on display .
As we walked through the library we saw a group gathering the play Magik. It was a large group with a really diverse set of players. Later, we saw that the group had grown so large that it had moved from their original location to one of the large reading rooms. It was cool to see that kind of use.
Of course not everything was sunshine and rainbows. The reference room has seen better days and there were clear signs of water damage. But all in all, for an urban library in a less than wealthy city, the Fall River Public Library is a super place - and, almost unbelievably - it has free parking on site! Library Land Score: 4.18.
TGIF! We settled in for the week’s home stretch, which included three final libraries on Friday. We’d been at a client meeting in Burlington and also had some SharpOrange business to take care of in Natick so we headed in that direction. Our library visits started in Sherborn. We visited their temporary library way back in May of 2018. They were among the first libraries that seemed to get what we were doing with our co-working activities.
We’d sort of expected the new library would be completed by now - or at least soon - but that isn’t the case. We don’t know all the whys and wherefores of the situation but suffice it to say the Sherborn Library is still in its temporary digs and no one seems able to pin down a date for finishing the renovations. It’s a sad state of affairs. Like many libraries, Sherborn is doing the best with what they have, but they really should have much more. Library Land Score: 4.18.
After Sherborn, I went to the Morse Institute in Natick to provide ideas and insights on plans to expand parking for the library. The library currently has only nine spaces, and these are limited to 15 or 30 minutes each. It’s a far cry from the ample parking we’ve seen in other towns. While I don’t know what the best solution might be, I do believe that the community should investigate its options. Hopefully, my ideas and observations will help the town come up with a workable approach.
Our very last visit in Library Land was a trip to the Medfield Public Library. We’d been here once in the past when the library was part of the Minuteman Network library crawl. (That sure was a fun event - even if it we did realize it was mostly for kids as we were given pencils for completing visits . . .). It’s a 90s era town library and it is pretty nice. There are a couple of old reading rooms, a good kid/teen section and a nice Library of Things collection. This included a Havahart animal trap. What, I wondered, are you supposed to do with the critter you capture? Bring it back to the library? (The answer, I learned, was “no.”) It was a fun and productive visit. Library Land Score: 4.27.
So there you have it, a really busy week in Library Land. Busy - but, as always, a ton of fun!