Community contributes to library's strategic plan

An all-in-one hub for the community equipped with not only the latest technology but stocked with high-quality programs, small-sized meeting rooms and shelves of resources for academics — that was the collective opinion amongst residents who attended a focus group discussion at the Trumbull Library last Thursday, July 16.
Almost 90 people packed into the building’s community room and 35 community members spoke during the 90-minute session, which was led by Leslie and Alan Burger of Library Development Solutions — the firm hired to create a strategic plan for the long-term future of the Trumbull Library System, including its current Quality Street location and its Fairchild-Nichols branch on Huntington Turnpike.
“What do you want this library to be like?” Leslie asked the crowded room before listening to suggestions.
“There’s no set motion right now — no mindset of ‘we’re going to end up doing this,’” she reassured the room. “It’s really tabula rasa at this point, and that’s why we’re doing this — we want to get the community’s input about the future.”
A majority of those who raised their hands to speak were in favor of the Quality Street location and adding more spaces to alleviate the library’s current parking problem; others were adamant about updating the 40-year-old building if it were to end up staying in the same place.
“There are so many other things to spend money on other than brick and mortar,” said Marjorie Freeman in reaction to recommendations about redesigning how the building looks.
“The wealth of a town is measured by the quality of its schools and its library, not the reverse,” Dr. Richard Resnick said later in the meeting. “If the library is a priority, then the sky is the limit for this community, but the library must be prominent and visible.
“It should stay here and enlarge itself to meet the needs of the future,” he added.
Future of the book
One of the recurring themes amongst speakers was the uncertainty surrounding the future of the printed word.
“We don’t know the future of the book — it’s hard for us to predict the future of the book,” said Carol Elstein.
“Moving the library would be a travesty,” she added. “People are accustomed to it being here, and I know a lot of people who would love to see the library stay right here.”
Citing that example later in the meeting, a female speaker said she hardly ever reads books in print anymore.
“I resisted go to the e-book for years,” she told the room. “But the selection of e-books has expanded and I keep finding there’s not enough choices out there in print.”
This sparked a brief discussion about the library’s Overdrive System, which provides e-books for users.
Hour change
Marshall Marcus of Stonehouse Road spoke next and stressed that the library expand its hours.
“It shouldn’t be closing at 8 p.m. — it should close at 9 p.m. at the least,” he said. “Maybe open it later at 10 a.m.”
Marcus added that he’d like to see the building stay open on Sundays in the summer. The library currently closes its doors Sundays from the middle of May to the beginning of September.
As for updating the physical space of the library, he said that the focus should be on “making the building softer.”
“It’s out of date and harsh,” Marcus said. “But it needs to stay here.”
Another female speaker agreed about making it a “softer place with more parking.”
“It needs to be more of a community center,” she said.
If the building were to be viewed as such, then there would be a need for smaller meeting rooms for tutoring and other activities, a male speaker noted.
“We need spaces where eight to 10 people can meet — and that can be used as space for kids’ parties and whatever other programs that might be offered,” he said.
Fitting it all in, together
Piggy-backing off an idea about hosting a film festival at the library, another person spoke about adding more author talks. Another recommended art be hung in the community room, creating a dual purpose for the space.
Other suggestions ranged from more interaction with the school district’s libraries, more technology and more technology support to more programs for young adults.
“I think the library does a great job with the children’s section but the young adult section is buried in the back of the building — I think we can definitely revamp that and make that a more attractive area for young adults together,” Rich Crocco said. “I think we all want this to become a place everyone in the community can use — somewhere we can all fit together.”
Dissenting opinions
One person in the crowd seemed to disagree with the assessment of the children’s section.
“Fairfield, Newtown, Westport — these libraries all have better children’s sections,” a female speaker said. “There’s no toddler section here — no room for kids to socialize and play, and they need to have a space that’s really imaginative.”
She also said the building could use a cafe, “somewhere we can sit down, drink coffee and relax as adult readers,” she said. “The goal should be to make this library a place I really want to be in and that my daughter never wants to leave.”
That sparked some dissent about the community having “to be realistic.”
“It’s not Westport; it’s not a lot of things — it’s Trumbull,” said Joan Bessey.
“I’ve heard a lot of ‘me, me, me’ tonight and one thing I want to remind everyone in this room is that you have to be here and you have to be willing to pay for it,” she said.
Working backward
Roy Fuchs, a former Westport resident, said that the planners needed to come up with a vision of what the library will look 10 years from now, and work backward from there.
Similar to some of the earlier speakers, he added that the library of the future needed to attract and engage people of all ages with emerging technologies, such as 3D printing, coding and robots.
“Work from the future back, not from today forward,” Fuchs said. “Let that vision tell us.”
Jenny McLaughlin, who coordinates the library’s technology and oversees the 3D printer at the Fairchild-Nichols branch, talked about engaging teens with recent tech-centric projects like building a robotic arm and creating a rocket.
“We’re exploring a lot of different technologies already,” she said. “What we’ve found out is that learning takes place in a lot of different forums — it’s more than just reading and listening.”
Location, location, location
Besides the parking woes, the expansion of technology offerings and the need to make the building less noisy by adding small conference rooms, the recommendation the Burgers heard the most from the community was “don’t move the building.”
“Location, location, location,” said Leslie Burger multiple times throughout the discussion.
“Without a central business district, this has become a center of the community,” she said. “This is the center of life in Trumbull, and that’s a real strength we already have working in our favor.”
“We want to build on the past success of this building and look ahead,” her husband added. “I think we can use its strengths to think about what we can to better — use the resources we have to be even better.”
The Burgers and Library Director Susan Horton reported to the room that 1,275 people had taken the library’s survey, and that those responses would help those overseeing the strategic plan — the library’s planning committee — to develop a list of priorities that will help the process move forward.
All the information will be compiled into a final report that will be presented to the library’s board and then to the public sometime this fall, Horton said.
“This is democracy in action,” Alan said, “community members engaged in their institutions.”