Red Hook – Small Library, Big Ideas!

Red Hook Public Library is situated in Red Hook Village, Dutchess County, New York State, the population of the village is under 2000, the library serves a population of approximately 4000 with out-lying areas. Red Hook Library is run by director Erica Freudenberger and a team of two full time staff, seven part time staff (between 10 and 20 hours) and five pages. Pages are teenage staff, aged 14 + who work 3-5 hours per week, after school, weekends and holidays, they earn the minimum wage. There are also 12-15 volunteers giving a few hours each, they usually help with shelving but may help run or lead activities.


This small library is based in an historic octagonal building, with limited space the team have found plenty of innovative ways to engage with their community. Red Hook Library has been nationally recognised for the work they have done, it has been designated a five star library by the Library Journal and was a finalist this year in the Best Small Library of America Award.

Although only just over 4000 square feet, there is space for a children’s library, a tween room, a teen area, adult library, study areas, three public computers and a children’s learning garden.


Red Hook is a municipal library which has a Board of Trustees. The Trustees act as governors of the library, dealing with finance and policies, they are appointed by the Mayor of the village. Erica reports to the trustees at the monthly board meetings. The library is funded by local taxes. The funding system means that residents vote in local elections for the amount they are prepared to spend on their library. This means that in order to secure appropriate funding it is imperative that the library demonstrates it’s value to the community.

Red Hook Board of Trustees meeting

Red Hook Board of Trustees meeting

As one of the Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) cohort Red Hook Library have been working hard on their community engagement activities, much of the programming is based on experiential learning. The amount of programming they achieve is truly impressive. On average they put on about 15 programmes per week. Usually the planning is done in 6-8 week cycles. Programmes include:

  • Romp and Stomp – pre-school
  • Toddler FUNdamentals – playing and developing fine motor skills
  • Petite Picasso – art for pre-schoolers
  • Story time – pre-school
  • Spinning yarns – knitters group
  • Libratory – STEM based maker sessions, after school
  • Crafternoon – for grade school children
  • Lego Club
  • Curators of the Lost Art – hands on art history and practice, after school grades 6-9
  • Minecraft
  • Two monthly book groups – adults afternoon and evening
  • Colour Club – adult colouring
  • Teen Tech Help – Saturdays, help with digital devices by pages and teen volunteers 10am-2pm
  • Farmers Market – Children’s craft activities and stories weekly at the village Farmer’s Market
  • Homeschool Discovery Zone – for homeschooled children and families
  • Learn conversational Italian – 8 week course for adults – beginner and intermediate classes
  • Learn Japanese for fun – introductory course for adults and high school students – volunteer led
  • Latin for teens – volunteer led
  • Shakespeare Discussion Group – monthly
  • Job Search Clinic- partnering with local career centre
  • Health Exchange Navigators – private sessions with navigators – partnership
  • After school sessions held at the High school library – currently web design and graphics – weekly partnering with school

In addition to these regular sessions there are many one-off adult evening events usually led by members of the community sharing their skills. These talks and workshops have included bee-keeping, gardening, brewing and maple tree tapping.

Hispanic Heritage Month organised by the library at the Farmers' Market

Hispanic Heritage Month organised by the library at the Farmers’ Market

Children's craft at the Farmer's Market

Children’s craft at the Farmer’s Market


Erica and the Mayor of Red Hook at the Farmer's Market

Erica and the Mayor of Red Hook at the Farmer’s Market

Erica and some of her team at Red Hook Farmers' Market. LtoR Dawn, Fiona, Erica and Jacob

Erica and some of her team at Red Hook Farmers’ Market.
LtoR Dawn, Fiona, Erica and Jacob

The work that Erica and her team do is inspiring, they work extensively with partners, including the nearby University, Bard College and the High School. There is a monthly meeting with village organisations and businesses “Red Hook Together” where there is an open dialogue and organisations share what they are doing, giving further opportunities for partnership work. Programmes are often held out of the library in community venues because of the limitations of space but this allows extensive outreach work, for all ages, and increases the visibility of the library and their work. Erica is constantly talking with her community and many of the events they deliver have been suggested by community members keen to share their skills.

Red Hook Library is thriving with over 150,000 visits and 11,000 attending programmed events in the last year as well as increased issues. Erica is convinced that the book issues will take care of themselves if you have people attending the programmed events. This library is highly valued by it’s community.

A final couple of points that may be useful for UK libraries when considering activities and events. At Red Hook and the other libraries that I have visited so far, there are no charges for any of the programmed events or courses, everything is offered for free.

The libraries are also open for longer hours, early evening is the busiest time. Red Hook is open 10am-7pm Monday – Friday and 10am-4pm on Saturdays. Many adult events are later in the evening after the library is closed. The staff work flexible shifts to accommodate out of hours programmes. Provision of library services outside the standard working day can only help engage the community with the library.

The Future is Programming!

After visiting Hartford I went home with Erica Freudenberger to her very beautiful house in Catskill. Erica had very kindly offered to put me up for a few days and introduce me to librarians in the Hudson Valley region as well as show me her own fascinating library at Red Hook – which will get a blog post all of it’s own.

On Thursday Erica took me along to the Mid Hudson Library System (MHLS) Future of Programming Workshop, in Ploughkeepsie.

I should start by explaining that library programming has a different context in the States, it means organising events and activities rather than something to do with computers. In the United States many public libraries have Programming Librarians with the responsibility of creating and organising all activities and events run in libraries.

The MHLS consists of 66 public libraries and It was great to be introduced to key library personnel from the area.

In the United States, much like in the UK, there is a downward trend in footfall and circulation. Programming, for all ages, is a growth area and is a way for libraries to further a core activity of facilitating knowledge creation. The workshop aimed to promote increasing community connections through programming.


The session was introduced by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, MHLS Co-ordinator for Library Sustainability. Rebekkah explained the importance of focusing on community needs rather than a library’s needs and wants. Libraries need to help build communities by continually looking for new ways and ideas to meet ever changing community needs.

Janie Hermann

The first speaker was Janie Hermann, Public Programming Librarian at Princeton Public Library, New Jersey. Janie told us how adult programming had been minimal at Princeton, however programming for all ages has grown in recent years and the library now offers over 1,700 public programs per year. The programming team is cross-departmental with Janie being the full time lead but 14 other team members each participating for a variety of hours to produce a wide range of events. She said that there had been a culture shift and there was now more emphasis on programming at Princeton Public Library than anything else.

Key tips Janie made were:

  • Just because something is free – you don’t have to offer it. Running events and activities is never free, staff time needs to be considered. Set goals and objectives for events.
  • Find a balance – what is too much and what is not enough? Princeton runs events 5 – 6 nights per week, this offers free entertainment to customers and residents.
  • Princeton sends out a weekly newsletter ‘ This Week in the Library’ at 7am every Monday. This enables people to set their calendars every week,
  • Think thematically, programming in quarters so people can take part in a series of events
  • Check that the collection can back up and support the programme.
  • Work with the collection development librarians, do an author’s books circulate in your libraries?
  • Do some blue sky thinking with your team – nothing is too outrageous, be adventurous, it doesn’t mean that every suggestion has to run.
  • Play Pause Rewind Delete – weed your programmes just like a collection. Look at partnership programmes annually, get rid of what’s not working to make way for the new.
  • You have to be flexible and spontaneous.
  • Take ideas from the community – listen to your community.
  • You need to have good PR, good staffing and a programming budget.

Some of the successful programmes put on by the Princeton team include:

  • Election Night at the Library – big screen
  • World Cup football – big screen
  • Rubik’s Cube competition
  • Royal Wedding guests – dressing up and big screen
  • Opera at Princeton – partnership with University
  • Environmental Film Festival – invite entries, screen films
  • Student Film and Video Festival – children to 24years
  • How to  – skills sharing festival
  • Civic Hackathon – designing apps for the town

Erinn Batykefer

The second speaker was Erin Batykefer, co-founder of The Library as Incubator Project and Programming Librarian at New Canaan Library. Erinn suggested that we need to re-frame what we do in the library, to connect people to information. The purpose of libraries is to exchange information and books are not the only way to do this. The reference section is no longer relevant we now have more up to date information on the Internet but we should also recognise that sometimes information is held in people. Libraries should see the people we serve as collaborators in the information exchange.

Erinn’s view is that programming should be treated as collection development. The events calendar needs to be representative of the community. Libraries should respond to suggestions from the community and provide events in a range of formats. Ideally thematic suites of programmes should be created so people have the opportunity to join at multiple points.

Erinn’s key areas to consider when organising a programme calendar are: Subject, Format and Diversity. Examples at Canaan Library include:

  • Skill Shares – e.g. knitting and crocheting, intergenerational, peer to peer learning, the library acting as facilitator.
  • Workshops – e.g. paper making workshop
  • Classes – e.g. IT, WordPress bootcamp followed up by monthly blogging get together.
  • Lectures – e.g. Birds of Prey, Bee Keeping
  • Author talks – partnering with schools and colleges

Erinn’s tip for ensuring diversity in the programming schedule is to ‘shelve’ programmes in Dewey. She does this simply by putting programmes under subject headings and colour coding the subjects. If the programme calendar is in a range of colours, diversity should be achieved.

Hudson Valley Libraries – early adopters, investing staff time in programming

The final session looked at three MHLS libraries that successfully use extensive programming as part of their core service.

Erica Freudenberger – Director of Red Hook Public Library

Patti Haar – Director of Patterson Library

Sue Ray – Director of Catskill Public Library

Some of the great suggestions and ideas shared by these librarians were:

  • Use your community’s skills – library as a facilitator
  • People like to be asked to share their skills
  • Listen to your community and do it for them
  • Serve the entire community not just those who use the library
  • Use community spaces for events – get out of the library, leave the building and meet people
  • Collaborate – run programmes with school librarians or local groups
  • take story times out of the library – visit local businesses, learn about baking, police, fire services
  • Successful programming takes commitment, funding, time and food – always serve some food
  • Programming is about experiential learning
  • The library is a venue facilitating knowledge creation
  • It will take time to build a public following
  • Don’t charge for anything
  • CANI – constant and neverending improvement
  • Hire the right people with shared vision and values
  • Proper outreach – there is no limit!
L to R Erinn Batykefer, Janie Hermann, Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, Frances Tout.

L to R Erinn Batykefer, Janie Hermann, Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, Frances Tout.

Hartford Public Library – A Place Like No Other

Hartford Public Library in Connecticut consists of the Downtown Central Library and 9 branch libraries.

I was met by CEO Matt Poland who started by giving me a tour of the Central Library. Joining us was Erica Freudenberger from Red Hook Public Liibrary, a small library in the Hudson Valley. Both Hartford and Red Hook are part of the ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) Programme.

Hartford Public Library is doing amazing things! They are thriving on partnership working including partnering with the Passport Office, a local restaurant, the University and local careers office.

The Central Library is a large space of over 60,000 square feet but the total staffing for all branches only numbers 129, over 50 of these are part time and 20 are security staff. Some areas, including the job and career centre, are staffed by partners.

‘A Place Like No Other’ is Hartford Public Library’s motto. Matt Poland wants all of his staff and anyone who visits the library to have this feeling about their library experience.           DSC00542





Once again there is a HOMAGO space, the teen area has only been open a year and it is led by Tricia. There is a strict rule that no adults are allowed. The area consists of a recording studio, games area, maker tables and more. Young people from the community, who specialize in coding, digital skills and studio recording, have been taken on as part time employees to offer expertise and peer to peer mentoring. In the summer 86 teens per day were using the space.





The American Place

This space works in partnership with the Passport Office and is designed to welcome immigrants and ease their transition into their new home city. Legal advice and a citizenship programme are offered as well as help into the workplace.




This vibrant and popular addition in the atrium is the result of a partnership with a local food business. It was decided that a chain would not be suitable with the ethos of the library so a non-profit partner called The Kitchen was chosen to provide a café area. The café trains and employs local citizens who are long term unemployed giving them new skills in catering and customer service. Food is home cooked and produce is sourced  locally. The Café pays 25% of it’s takings to Hartford Public Library giving the library some income generation as well as providing an excellent additional facility.




The library has a gallery which promotes local artists hosting exhibitions for free. There is also a collection of sculptures and paintings which are located throughout the library by a variety of well known American artists. These have been donated to the library.




There is some interesting new technology in the library including a touch screen table which stores a wealth of digitised local studies information. It is available for the general public to use but can be used for presentations and classes, it is linked to a large screen on the wall.



After lunch in the Kitchen cafe, Public Services Director Corey Fleming took us on a tour of some of the branches. Thie branches are usually staffed by a branch manager, a teen/youth librarian, a library assistant and a security guard.

We started at the small Park branch with it’s mainly hispanic community. This is in a socially deprived area, so additional support is put in place to support the community. While I was there a busy homework club was taking place. The site is located near to schools and children arrive immediately after school for support with homework from library staff. The stock in the library also reflects the needs of the community with a large quantity being in Spanish.


We then visited the Dwight Library which has recently been extended. The site is co-located with a community centre, a senior centre and a school.  The newer part of the building can easily be cleared to be used as a performance space. Homework clubs are very popular in the branch libraries.


Our final visit was to the Albany branch, a new library which is conveniently located next to two schools. The branch has a large meeting room which is used and valued as a community space,


Libraries Transforming Communities Meeting

In the afternoon we were lucky enough to be invited to attend the weekly LTC meeting with the Senior Leadership Team. The  meeting was held in the Bubble Up room, this room is an innovation space and has been designed out of the LTC coaching. It is a space to be used for brainstorming. The idea is that the room should be used to explore ideas rather than actioning ideas, it includes a full wall of chalk board and a shelf of play-doh.


The LTC meeting discussed the neighbourhood security project that had developed from the ‘turning outward’ approach. More can be read about this in the recent Ammerican Libraries issue here.

Itty Bitty Hartford

An exciting new development that will be taking place next year will be Itty Bitty Hartford. The space for 0-4 year olds is being re-designed. A  model street will be installed in the children’s library to enable experiential learning. 67% of children in Hartford do not have the motor or vocabulary skills  expected of pre-school children. The new space will allow children and parents/carers to learn about and experience everyday activities in a fun way and familiar setting. Funds have already been raised for the $500,000 project and construction will start in the new year.


Thank you to Matt Poland and his team for a fascinating day and for sharing your exciting developments with us. Further information about Hartford Public Library will be available in my full report.

Boston Public Library – HOMAGO, programming and so much more!


Boston Public Library was the first publicly funded municipal library in America established in 1848. The Central Library has been on the current site in Copley Square since1895. The older historic building was designed by Charles McKim, originally it was known as the “palace for the people”. In 1972 the library expanded with an additional building adjoining the McKim building designed by Philip Johnson, The two buildings take up one block and cover a million square feet. The Johnson Building is currently undergoing an $80 million regeneration and renovation project funded by the city. The second floor has been completed and the rest of the building is due to re-open in 2016.

The Central Library is many things, it is a historic building – a museum within a library offering art and architecture tours; an exhibition centre; a research library; a special collections library with holdings of 23 million items (second only in size to The Library of Congress); a digital repository for the State of Massachusetts; a business centre; a map centre and a public services library with a wide programme of events, including lectures, author talks, weekly music concerts, technology training, children’s story times and crafts as well as lending and online services. Importantly BPL are proud to offer every service and event for free. The motto Free To All is carved in stone above the entrance of the library.



I started the day off by meeting with Michael Colford, Director of Library Services and Jen Inglis, Chief of Public Services. We discussed funding streams, income generation, state wide collaborative services, staffing, volunteers, partnerships, branch libraries and locations. Many of these I will cover in my final report but here I would like to share some highlights of the day.


imageOver the past couple of years there has been a significant shift in focus for the branch libraries towards community outreach. While I didn’t actually see the bibliocycle it is worth mentioning as it is an extremely successful and popular outreach development.

The bike has been specially developed with a fold out cart. Carrying between 50-100 books, librarians and assistants, working in pairs, visit farmers’ markets, fairs, and community events. They can join people to the library, promote library services and lend books.

Working with school libraries

BPL provides cataloguing services for its own libraries and all the public schools in Boston. Children at public schools are issued with a BPL library card by their school librarian. The joint catalogue between BPL and the schools enables the students to request items from other school libraries or a public library, this will then be delivered to their school or made available to collect at a local library.

Johnson Building renovation

Michael took me on a tour of the newly opened  2nd floor space in the Johnson building, which incorporates the Children’s Library, Teen Central and Adult Services (non-fiction).

Children’s Library




This is a space for the very young up to pre-teens (tweens), each age group has it’s own area. The space includes a fabulous sensory wall for babies and toddlers, a story time area by the large window and a computer and seating area for the tweens.  There is an additional learning room which can be used for crafts and author events. The library is large, cheerful and welcoming. The focus is on children and parents being able to use the space in different ways rather than the book stock which has been reduced    by approximately 50% to make way for the new design.

Teen Central



Teen Central has a far more urban industrial feel. Teens were consulted on what they would like in their space, so it has become a HOMAGO space with booths to sit and hang out in, a games and films room, laptops and a digital media lab. Book shelves are on wheels so they can be moved out to open the space up for events. Teen Librarian Jessica Snow says that the place is buzzing after school with 60+ teenagers.

Within the digital media lab Youth Technology Librarian Catherine Halpin supports teens and organises workshops on music making, 3D modelling, video editing, programming, photoshop and graphic design. Workshops are often provided by community partners. Technology Librarians need to know enough to get people started but don’t need to be experts. Many of the teens already have skills so peer to peer learning is being encouraged and the hope is that teens will also be able to teach the adults when the new Business Innovation Centre opens in 2016. Jessica has developed a paid programme for Teen Tech Mentors who will work 6-8 hours a week during term time supporting peers with technology.

The pictures below show Jessica’s ideas flip chart for teens to fill in on new activities they would like – such a simple effective idea – and Technology Librarian Catherine Halpin with Michael Colford in the media suite.


Adult Services

The main adult non-fiction area leads on from Teen Central. This is also an area where people can study, use the WiFi  or sit and read. The window bar seating area is particularly popular with patrons. Simple ideas such as wayfinding boards work well for orientation.


All three areas have seen a dramatic increase in footfall and usage since the 2nd floor opened in February this year,

Community Learning Centre

When the other floors  of the building re-open in 2016 there will be a Community Learning Centre. Gianna Gifford, Manager of Reference and Instruction Services produces a programme of workshops for patrons with English as a second language (ESL). These include English classes, citizenship classes and conversation circles.

Conversation circles provide an opportunity for ESL patrons to practice speaking English in small informal groups. These sessions take place at the Central Library and a number of the branch libraries. It is one of the fastest growing programmes and also one of the few areas supported by volunteers at BPL.

Gianna also oversees a range of research, technology and career classes and drop in help sessions.

Kirstein Business Library and Innovation Centre

The Innovation Centre will be a major new development. It will be a place where start up businesses and entrepreneurs can research, network and use meeting spaces. It will house a makerspace where businesses can create their own logos or start Etsy craft businesses from the library. It will provide MOOC sessions where people can take online courses together offering peer to peer support. The Centre will provide a very flexible space where a range of  demonstrations, workshops and support can take place. Small businesses will be able to use the facilities for free but it is hoped that in return there will be the opportunity for skills sharing and entrepreneurs may be asked to facilitate workshops to share their knowledge and skills with others.

Retail Outlet

The main floor of the Johnson Building will include partnering with a retail outlet, this will provide some income generation. The process is already underway with a request for proposals issued. The prerequisite is that the type of retail outlet has to be compatible with a public library and library services.

Events Management

Emily Tokarczyk manages a small events team for the BPL, various spaces within the Central Library can be hired for weddings, conferences and other events out of opening hours and it makes a spectacular venue. The team will make all of the arrangements and catering is provided by the library café and restaurant.



Tour of the McKim Building

At the end of the day Meghan Weeks took me on a tour of the historic McKim Building. Meghan has a museum and architecture background and her knowledge was incredible. The BPL provides a free daily Art and Architecture tour of the McKim Building which over 10,000 people a year take. I was lucky enough to have a one to one tour and the frescos, statues and architecture are really quite magnificent.image




My day at Boston Public Library was truly inspiring. Thank you so much to Michael and his team for putting aside so much of their time and sharing information and best practice so willingly. I’d love to return to Boston one day to see the Johnson Building in it’s finished state.

Next stop Hartford!


I arrived yesterday evening and as today is a Sunday I had free time to explore the city. The weather is warm and sunny and the city is lovely so I thought I would share some photos of my day off.

imageimageimage image

Tomorrow I am visiting Boston Public Library. I hope to have a look around all of the library but I am particularly interested in finding out more about their HOMAGO  (Hang out, mess around and geek out) Teen Central area. I will be meeting up with Michael Colford, Director of Library Services and some key members of his team who were involved with the design of the new space.

A taster photo of Boston Public Library which has the fabulous wording across the top of the building: The Public Library of the City of Boston built by the people and dedicated to the advancement of learning.

Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library

4 days to go!

There’s only 4 days to go before I fly out to Boston this Saturday. I’ve spent my spare time over the last couple of weeks making final arrangements – hopefully I’m just about there now.

All travel arrangements have been made, ESTA application approved, travel money card topped up, final appointments confirmed and presentation written.

I’m using a great travel itinerary app called TripIt to put all of my meetings, travel tickets, maps, directions and accommodation details in one place. My flights and AirBnB details can sync to TripIt and it all syncs to my Google Calendar as well. This also means that my family can see where I am which is useful too.

Next I’m going to see if I can pack everything into a carry on case and small shoulder bag. Everybody seems to think this idea will be quite a challenge but I’m hoping it will be very practical as I have lots of different travel connections and changes of accommodation. To help with the downsizing I’m also taking mini tech in the form of an iPad mini and keyboard rather than my laptop, a Kindle, my iPhone and a pocket sized camera. Using a mini keyboard is a new learning experience but I’m hoping that I’ll improve at it. Importantly I’ve sorted some dual voltage straighteners – some things just can’t be left at home!