New Blog!

Carnegie Library Lab

This year I have been fortunate enough to be one of the six UK librarians to become Carnegie Partners in the second cohort of the Library Lab programme. The Carnegie UK Trust created the three year Library Lab programme to support and develop innovation and leadership in the public library sector. The programme offers funding for an innovative library project, an online learning programme to support skills development, a personal mentor to help with project management and personal development and networking opportunities with other Library Lab Partners.

I have started a new blog to document this new phase of my career.


Travelling Librarian 2016

The 2016 Travelling Librarian Award has been won by Leanne Young, Distance Services Librarian at the University of Sunderland. Leanne will be travelling to the United States to visit higher education libraries in November this year. I wish Leanne best wishes for a successful trip and hope that she has as much fun as I did.

Leanne’s Travelling Librarian study tour can be followed  on her blog


Travelling Librarian 2015 Report

As promised here is the full report of my U.S. study tour

TL cover









and presentation slides


Applications for the Cilip/ESU Travelling Librarian Award 2016 will open in January 2016

Please do feel free to get in touch for more information about my study tour, speaking engagements/presentations or articles. I am also happy to offer support to anyone applying for this award or similar in the future. I can be contacted on Twitter @FrancesTout on via the contact form below.


Travels have ended but library adventures continue!

Well I have come to the end of my Travelling Librarian study tour. I’ve had an amazing time and consider myself extremely lucky to have been given this opportunity. Along the way I’ve seen some fabulous libraries and places, I’ve met some awesome librarians, found an American library soul-mate with whom I hope to plan some international co-working and made some great contacts to share best practices with.

I will be taking back some great ideas, some will be:

  • Wow! If only we had the space or the money!
  • We could definitely look at that model and adapt it to suit us.
  • We could build relationships like these.
  • That is so obvious – it’s a no-brainer!
  • Next year’s team plan!
  • Maybe not for us but other libraries may find this useful.

I also know that we have a great team at North Somerset and we have lots of fantastic projects and developments on the go, which I have enjoyed sharing with colleagues overseas. I hope that what I have discovered and learnt will help inform future developments, I know that colleagues in the States will also be looking at some of our processes and projects to adapt for their libraries. Sharing is the best way forward, it’s not necessary for any of us to re-invent the wheel, libraries, after all, are about open access to information – free for all!

I will be writing a full report and will post it here when it is published. I am happy to help and give guidance or support to anyone who may be applying for the Travelling Librarian bursary or similar in the future. Please do get in touch email: or Twitter: @FrancesTout. I look forward to writing articles and delivering presentations to share my findings and experiences over the coming months.

Most of all I would like to thank the English Speaking Union and CILIP for giving me the opportunity and funding this amazing library adventure. Also North Somerset Library Service and North Somerset Council for supporting my application and letting me go. Lastly, but by no means least, I would like to thank all my colleagues at work, who have had to cover my workload while I’ve been away, they have been extremely supportive and not one of them has moaned at me!

in front of Lincoln memorial

Chattanooga Public Library – Makerspaces and Walk Up Stations

A number of people were surprised that I was going off the beaten track down to Chattanooga for the last stop of my study tour. However Chattanooga Public Library is led by 2014 Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year, Corinne Hill, who in the past three years, with a team of hand-picked librarians from around the States, has turned the library’s fortunes around quite dramatically. Corinne was brought in as Executive Director in 2012 following an independent consultant report which deemed the library to be failing and irrelevant. Chattanooga Public Library is a big space but it does not have the big budget that some of the other libraries I’ve visited have. It is a challenging 1970s concrete building with large open spaces, the floors are reminiscent of aircraft hangers, but by using the space to their advantage Corinne and her leadership team have demonstrated what can be done, providing innovative new spaces with a limited budget. It is still a work in progress and so far most effort has been concentrated on the 4th floor makerspace and the 2nd floor Teens/Tweens and Children’s areas. Much has been written and talked about Chattanooga’s 4th floor and it has been heralded for it’s creative innovation, however it was the 2nd floor Teen/Tween areas that really caught my eye…but I’ll start at the top.


I met with Corinne Hill and Assistant Director Mary Jane Spehar, they gave me an insight into some of the changes that have taken place in the last couple of years.

The 4th floor is the best known area putting Chattanooga at the forefront of the makerspace movement in libraries but a lot of other changes have taken place. One of the major changes has been the way the library order’s stock, in the past up to 19 people selected the stock, this process has been streamlined, stock is now ordered by two people and new stock is pre-processed. Corinne’s view is that when a book is released it should be available in the library on the same day. If a new book is popular and there are many reservations for it, additional copies are now purchased.

Corinne introduced a patron request system, the premise being that it is cheaper to purchase a paperback book than pay for the cost of staff time and postage for inter-library loans. The promise is that the library will purchase requests that patrons ask for and the patron will be the first person to borrow that book or DVD. It is not a complete carte blanche, the items requested have to fit within the bounds of the collection policy and be available to purchase. Since 2012 there have been 11,000 patron requests. The library is now finding that by adding to their collection in this way, they are purchasing a broader range of materials that are popular with patrons and may not have been chosen by librarians. The process of actively partnering with the community to build the collection is very popular with patrons, patrons feel that the library is listening to them and requests can be turned around within a week.

They have bought into many online services including several for eBooks and eAudio books and an online film streaming service. Very extensive weeding had to take place to make room for the new areas which was quite controversial at the time.

Other changes that took place were investment in customer service training and practices and changes to recruitment. Customer comment cards are placed all around the building for customers to give feedback, every comment is followed up by Mary Jane. Corinne visited an Apple Genius Bar to get her phone fixed and was impressed with the service and staff so she asked Apple for their job description and application form and had them adapted for the library, they then advertised for ‘smart people’. This gave them some new staff who have different skill sets to complement existing staff with library backgrounds.

There has been an institutional cultural shift underway at the Chattanooga Public Library, not all staff have reacted well to the changes that have been made but the process is ongoing and Corinne believes that to create institutional change takes five years. A forthcoming staff day training will be used to highlight to all staff the different activities that happen on the 2nd and the 4th floor.


4th Floor

I was shown around the 4th floor makerspace by Mary Barnett (4th floor operations) and Elizabeth Gaffney (assistant). The floor had been used as a storage space prior to Corinne’s arrival, it was completely cleared and now offers 12,000 square feet of public laboratory and educational space.  After trying various hours and days they decided that the best times for the floor to be open are Tuesdays to Saturdays 2-8pm.  The space is staffed by three part-time assistants, it is often single staffed and occasionally double staffed.  The mantra on the 4th floor is that the library is there to facilitate, it is all about self-directed learning, the staff are learning too so won’t do the work for people but can help if needed, the ethos is to allow people to learn themselves. Originally the floor was designed to be a conduit for people to be self-organised, however they are now trying to start some introductory workshops to help people get started in the space. Where possible they ask people in the community to come and share some of their skills rather than relying on staff to learn enough to teach. The focus of the 4th floor is to support production, connection and sharing of knowledge by providing access to tools, facilities and space.

The most popular item on the 4th floor is the 3D printer, the filament is charged at cost ($0.06 per gram) so most items printed cost no more than about $1.50.  Other popular items include a zine making area – essentially cutting, sticking and folding to make small magazines. There is also a fabric making area with a loom and sewing machine, a vinyl plotter and a laser cutter as well as an area with traditional tools.

The floor also houses the GigLab, Chattanooga is the Gig City, one Gigabit per second internet speed is available to every household and business in the city by super-fast fibre optic broadband. The GigLab offers one Gigabit of connectivity throughout the library and through the WiFi, it also offers a 4K extremely high definition screen, an audio visual streaming system and virtual servers. Popular recent additions are two Oculus Rift headsets enabling virtual reality gaming.

Th vast 4th floor space

The vast 4th floor space

3D printer

3D printer

Zine making area - popular cutting and sticking

Zine making area – popular cutting and sticking

traditional tools

Traditional tools

Gig Lab


Virtual Reality in the GigLab space

Virtual Reality in the GigLab space

Sewing and weaving area

Sewing and weaving area

Seating and meeting area

Seating and meeting area

3rd Floor

The 3rd floor has more of a traditional library feel and houses the genealogy and local history collections as well as a computer suite dedicated to local studies and family history databases.


2nd Floor

Teens and Tweens area

The Teens and Tweens area covers over half of the second floor, it used to be the adult non-fiction area but in the last couple of years it has been completely cleared out. Now there are Chromebooks for teens to use in the library and there is no enquiry desk, there are usually one to two members of staff who floorwalk and the space is filled with lots of interesting ever-changing things for teens to do.

Megan Emery is a librarian based on the 2nd floor, she designs the programming for the teen and tween department and also the programming for the 4th floor makerspace. She is currently focusing on parallel programming ideas between the 2nd and 4th floors, making the 4th floor more family orientated and a natural progression for young adults from the teen area. This will enable trips to the library to become a greater whole family experience.

Megan has worked on Etsy’s Entrepreneurship Program for libraries, with her knowledge from this programme she has developed a weekly Saturday teen camp called Camp EtsyNooga, it runs over five weeks and is aimed at helping teens start their own small creative businesses. The teens need to come along with a product that they have made or designed and sessions concentrate on helping them with pricing, replicating their product and marketing. At the end of the camp they attend and sell their products at a craft fair.

The 2nd floor has an interesting range of walk up program stations, these are not operated by staff and again the focus is on self-directed learning. Through a series of focus groups they asked teens and tweens what they would like to see in the space, so the programming is developed with the users’ input.  The stations include a gaming area, Minecraft stations, a MaKey MaKey station (currently glasses of water linked to making music on a Chromebook), science experiments, Spirograph, a tracing table, button badge making and an iPad Instagram photo booth. There are also areas for theatre, art and a big screen for weekend movies. One of the programmes that was on while I was there, which really appealed, was “Let’s take things apart”, old electronic devices that no longer work, e.g laptops, VHS machines, radios etc., are donated to the library and the teens can spend an hour taking them apart. The programme an hour later is “Let’s put things together” here teens and tweens spend an hour making new weird and wonderful things from the items they’ve taken apart in the previous session.

Programming on the 2nd floor is extensive with multiple activities each day, many of them are advertised in the events pages but many are just put on at short notice if teens want them and there are always a range of walk up stations.

There is also of course a book area and some staff recommendations to help teens decided what to read. The manga and graphic novels are particularly popular. Teens are encouraged to sit back and read for 20 minutes if they are spending time on the gaming station and want to change a game.

Megan operates a teen volunteer programme where she has about 180 teens and tweens who help out. There are no set roles and no set times. It is very flexible, they can turn up and there is always an ongoing list of (real) things to do which maybe about developing programmes, designing craft areas, art projects, helping on walk up stations. Volunteers are initially trained to do pop-up programmes, take statistics, engage with patrons. Some experienced teens also provide peer to peer learning, teaching and supporting new volunteers. Over 800 hours were donated in August alone.

Daily programmes

Daily programmes

Gaming area

Gaming area

Minecraft stations

Minecraft stations

I have a go at Makey Makey - walk up music from science activity

I have a go at MaKey MaKey – walk up music from science activity

Makey Makey

Makey Makey

STEM programing

STEM programing

Spirograph table

Spirograph table

Lightbox tracing station

Lightbox tracing station

Button badge making

Button badge making

Instagram photo booth using an iPad in a box

Instagram photo booth using an iPad in a box

Megan shows me the Big Screen

Megan shows me the Big Screen

Make your own floor board game

Make your own floor board game

And some books!

And some books!

Teen staff top picks

Teen staff top picks

Children’s Library

I was shown around the Children’s area by Lee Hope, Youth Services Coordinator. This area had been rows and rows of shelving with no seating, it is now an open space where children and their carers want to spend time. Similarly to the Teen and Tween area there are lots of walk up programme stations, fun things for children to do based on STEAM learning (STEM plus the arts). These include Lego and Duplo tables, sensory pods, hopscotch taped on the floor, postcard writing, a dressing up area  and magnet letters. Story times take place in a separate children’s events room and it was interesting to hear that they also deliver a regular sensory story time, they find these are particularly good for children with autism as well as visually impaired or deaf children.

Children's Library

Children’s Library

Sensory pods

Sensory pods

Hopscotch in the library

Hopscotch in the library

Felt table

Felt table

Write a postcard to your favourite book character

Write a postcard to your favourite book character

Making puppets with paper plates and crayons

Making puppets with paper plates and crayons

Magnet letter board using roasting tins

Magnet letter board using roasting tins


1st Floor

The entrance of the library combines a coffee shop with the circulation desk, all circulation staff make coffee as well. It is aptly named ‘Circulation and Percolation’. The coffee shop breaks even, it is not there to raise funds but provides an additional service to customers. The rest of the 1st floor houses the adult fiction, non-fiction, 20 public computers, magazines, DVDs and audio books.

Coffee shop entrance

Coffee shop entrance


Adult fiction

Adult fiction

I’d like to thank everyone at Chattanooga Public Library for their time and the information they shared. There are many inspiring ideas here that can easily be adapted to suit other libraries.

DCPL – Collections, Labs and Accessibility

I had a weekend in Washington DC before my meetings at The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (Central Library) on Monday. This allowed me a bit of time to catch up with myself and have a look at some of the city. For a librarian a visit to the Library of Congress is a must, they offer free, hour long tours around the main Jefferson Building. The tours concentrate on the history, art and architecture of the Library of Congress and are led by very knowledgable volunteers. There are other exhibitions and library treasures to explore. I also visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, both of which I can recommend. A walk down the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial and The White House is also a must. The amazing thing about Washington DC is that all museums and buildings are free entry.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (Central Library)

image image

The 440,000 square ft building was designed by architect Mies van der Rohe, it was completed in 1972 and in 2007 it was designated an historic landmark by the District of Columbia. A major three year renovation and extension programme is due to start in the next 18 months. This will include adding an additional storey onto the top floor. While the refurbishment takes place the library will move off the site. They are currently in the process of looking for accommodation in the downtown area for each different department. I was shown around the building by Operations Manager April King before a series of meetings DCPL had set up for me.

Highlights of the tour, not included later, were:

  • Adult Literacy Resource Center  – Help to pass High School Diplomas, computer assisted learning, help with reading, writing and maths, English as an additional language and conversation circles. The centre runs classes and one to one help delivered by tutors and supported by volunteers.
  • Computer Lab – A wide range of free computer classes are provided ranging from the basics to designing a website. There are usually three classes a day Mondays to Thursdays and Saturdays.  Computer classes are delivered by a tutor and volunteers. The computer lab is also used for staff training.
  • Teen Area – Staff work between the Teen Area and the Children’s Library. The area include’s gaming and a small studio, Mac computers, and YA books. Teens can put forward ideas they would like to do e.g. film making. It was interesting to find that they are considering changing some of their Macs for PCs as the feedback they have had is not all teens are comfortable with Macs.
  • Children’s Library – A large area where they provide extensive after school programming. The space includes separate baby and toddler areas, with  a sensory wall. There is also a large colourful story time room, usually accommodating up to 60 children and carers. During holiday periods they can have 150 attending story times.
  • The library partners with a number of local government organisations, this includes the local jail and a room is available for video visits for families of men awaiting trial. A councillor for the homeless also uses the space and a support agency for veterans operates from the library. Advice sessions on ‘Obama Care’ are frequently available. Other civic partnerships include tax office advice sessions and disability benefit – help to fill out forms.

I had lunch with Kim Zablud, Assistant Director of Public Services, we discussed the possibilities and concepts of the new building and what will still be relevant in five years time, when the new building will be open. The current plans are to retain the makerspaces, co-working business spaces, zones for government partner agencies and provide a visible centre for innovation. Book stock may be reduced but there is likely to be more of a book store arrangement, with low level shelving, ‘grab and go’ fiction, a cafe and a visitors’ centre.

Kim explained how a staff visioning study came up with five anchor concepts for the new library.

  1. The City’s reading room – traditional library space
  2. The City’s innovation lab – maker movement and co-working
  3. The City’s gathering place – place for people to meet and public meetings
  4. The City’s classroom – place for learning, all ages
  5. The City’s forum – a place for public discussion about things of importance to the community.

The new space will have a lot of programming space so they will be relying heavily on community partners to deliver programmes. It is likely that that they will have an events co-ordinator to ensure that there are plenty of daily events.

A range of social services are available including a library social worker

A range of social services are available

Computer teaching room

Computer teaching room

Computer Classes

Computer Classes

Children's Library

Children’s Library

Story time room

Story time room

Lego in the Children's Library

Lego in the Children’s Library

Teen Centre

Teen Centre

Teen Centre

Teen Centre

Partnering with local bicycle hire company, making the most of unnused outside space

Partnering with local bicycle hire company, making the most of unused outside space

Special Collections

After lunch I met with Mark Greek, special collections co-ordinator. The special collections is made up of Washingtoniana and a Black Studies Centre. The Washingtoniana is one of the largest local history centres in a public library in the US, it includes a public archive, micro film, newspapers, periodicals, books, photographs, maps, art and sculpture. Most of the collection is donated and the space available will double in size in the new building. One option in the new building will be for the Historical Society to move in with the Special Collections department which will increase the collection size. The department run public programming, a recent programme was the history of murals in the city. They also act as facilitators for community meetings. A lot of programmes are delivered by staff, out in community spaces during the evenings and weekends. Staff work flexibly to enable these programmes to take place and Mark said that empowering staff with ownership of projects helps with this process.


Memory Lab

Jaime Mears is a resident fellow from the Library of Congress, she has been placed at DCPL for one year to develop a project helping raise awareness of personal archiving and digitising. Jaime’s exciting project is likely to be very popular with the public, it will be ready to launch next February. The Memory Lab will be a space where the public will be able to transfer obsolete formats to digital files, Jaime has researched the formats that were most popular by the numbers that were purchased, VHS, VHS Cs, mini DVs, audio cassettes, photos and transparencies. The public wil be able to do this for free, it will be very accessible and will be promoted as a social activity, e.g. families come to the library with their old home movies, enjoy watching them together, digitise them – staff will show them how.

Jaime has also developed a series of workshops such as archiving your Facebook pages. She will be spending time making sure that she teaches the lab staff how to use the equipment and is also writing detailed workshop lesson plans so that the project can be used by other public libraries. There are plans to develop a picture based wiki with information to help people use the lab, this will be available online and in paper format in the lab. Jaime will also be producing preservation information to help ensure that people have the resources they need to take care of their digital files once they have visited the lab e.g. best practices.

There are currently no other projects like this in United States public libraries but a similar project is already in operation at Vancouver Public Library. Jaime has a blog where she is documenting her project.

Jaime Mears testing phase of the Memory Lab

Jaime Mears testing phase of the Memory Lab

Centre for Accessibility

I next met with Adaptive Services Librarian, Rose Asuquo. The centre tries to ensure that DCPL is accessible for people with all types of disabilities, it includes the DC Library for the Blind which is part of the National Library Service for the Blind. Every state has a Library for the Blind. The National Library Service for the Blind is run from the Library of Congress and provides DCPL with the talking book machines and the talking books for free. There are about 1000 DCPL patrons who use the Library for the Blind service.

A books at home service operates for patrons with short term disabilities, there are only about 50 patrons using this service, books or dvds are posted out to them in zipped bags whenever they require them, the books for the blind are delivered in the same way. Rose said that most of the interaction for the Library for the Blind and at home service patrons is done over the phone, they do not meet 99% of these customers.

The Centre for Accessibility offers many other services including a wide range of assitive technology  hardware and software for computers. Mac has a full range of accessibility features but Rose finds that many patrons are using PCs and while there is accessibility on Microsoft, patrons prefer JAWS screen reader software as it has greater functionality.

Extensive programmes catering for all aspects of disability are delivered by the centre, including:

  • Accessibility networking for web developers
  • Accessibility Hackathons
  • Youth education, independence, employment and technology fairs
  • ASL story hour – stories, crafts and therapy dogs
  • Blind and low vision game nights – Scrabble, Monopoly, Bingo and Uno
  • Braille book club for kids
  • Celebrations of deaf culture
  • Sign language classes
  • Technology training sessions
  • Talking book club
  • iPad and Android training sessions

It was very impressive to see a department in a public library with such a wide range of services and options for people with disabilities.


Free audio book machines for the blind and visually impaired


The centre keeps thousand of audio books for the visually impaired. Cassette tape size but USB fittings.


A wide range of assitive hardware and software is available for patrons

Assitive gaming station

Assitive gaming station

The Labs

Maryann James-Daley is the Manager of the Digital Commons and The Labs, she showed me around these new innovative areas.

The Digital Commons houses public use PCs and  Macs, patrons can use the computers twice a day for 70 minutes. The space includes the Dream Lab co-working space, ‘incubators’ (small glass offices for small business use) can be used as a one off for meetings or may be used regularly by some individuals as office space. Regular nonprofits or start-ups can sign a contract with the library and in return for free use of office space, they agree to deliver one programme per month in their area of expertise, e.g. marketing, design, social media, coding etc.

An espresso book machine is available which can be used to print bound copies of out of copyright books or a patron’s own book or report.

There is also a small booth available for patrons to Skype in.

The Studio Lab offers, for free with a library card, a fully working recording studio, rehearsal space for bands, a green screen, photography programming, photography studio space, interview and podcasting booths.

The Fab Lab is a maker space with seven 3D printers, a 3D scanner, laser cutters, wire bender, traditional tools and soldering equipment. An extensive range of programming is offered, mostly in the evenings. There are two makers in residence who can inspire patrons and deliver programmes. They are funded by the foundation and are in residence for a year.

Regular 20-30 minute orientation sessions are held for the labs, patrons need to complete an orientation session before they can use the labs, it includes health and safety information and expectations. Certification sessions are also required to use specific machines, once patrons have taken these sessions they are free to book sessions to use the labs and equipment. There is no charge to use the labs, customers bring in their own maker materials and there is a nominal charge for 3D printing.

The staff of the labs are not necessarily librarians, although some are (with a keen interest in technology), other staff employed have a technology background. The lab staff rotate so they cover all of the labs and the Digital Commons.

Espresso Book Machine

Espresso Book Machine

paperbacks made from the Espresso Book Machine

Paperbacks made from the Espresso Book Machine

Small meeting rooms/office space for businesses

Small co-working rooms/office space for businesses in DC Commoms

Skype desk

Skype booth – DC Commons

Studio Lab - fully equipped recording studio and practice space

Studio Lab – fully equipped recording studio and practice space

Sound booth

Sound booth

Maker Lab

Fab Lab – Makerspace

3D printers

3D printers


Laser cutter products

Laser cutter products

My day at DCPL was really interesting and covered a number of different areas. Thank you to all the team for their time. I’ll be very keen to see how the building renovation progresses and what the new space will eventually hold and offer.

Free Library of Philadelphia – Doing Things Differently

I spent two days at the Free Library of Philadelphia Central Library with a full schedule arranged by Donald Root, Chief of Central Public Services, and his assistant Stephanie. It was great to meet with so many teams and also to meet with Free Library President, Siobhan Reardon, Librarian of the Year 2015.

I will cover my time at the Free Library in more detail in my final report but here I will concentrate on some of the ways they are doing things differently.



The cafe is run by a non-profit organisation which supports the homeless. It offers work skills to formerly homeless people in customer service and catering, encouraging them to progress into employment. The library works in partnership with the cafe and makes no charge for it to operate from the building.


Business Library

The Central Library is a large historic 1927 building which is due to undergo a major expansion project. They hope to build a new area underground, at the back of the building, which will house the children’s department and an auditorium. Underneath the current building are six floors of stacks. All the stock that was kept in the stacks has been moved offsite to a facility 3.5 miles away and this area will be redeveloped to make a new Business, Research and Innovation Center (BRIC), a Commons and a teen area. The building work is due to start in January 2016.

Charles Smith introduced me to his business team and explained how BRIC will consolidate the many current business areas of the library into one modern space. It will include the Workplace which is an area for jobseekers to find support with CVs, job applications and interview techniques. Another section will be the Regional Foundation Center which supports all levels of nonprofit organisations through research, databases, resources, programming and referrals. The new centre will also provide areas for business mentors, legal advisors and financial advisors to support small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The Business Library partners extensively with the Philadelphia business community to provide a wide range of free, regular, programming for businesses and entrepreneurs. Presentations and classes available include: branding, finance, technology, business plans, motivational speaking, women in business etc. These are very well attended with numbers ranging between 80 and 150, an additional benefit from the programming is that it offers great opportunities for networking.

The business department are also involved with health, they are currently exploring the possibility of having a library nurse to offer basic health assessments. For the last year two social workers, employed by the city, have worked from the library and support patrons in a variety of ways, especially the homeless, older people and those who may have mental health issues.


Literacy Enrichment After School Programme (LEAP)

Chris Caputo and her team met with me to give an overview of their children and teens educational programming.

Drop-in after school sessions are available at all 54 library branches. The sessions offer homework help but also extensive STEM programming to extend the learning that happens in school. 53 adult after school leaders and about 130 high school students are employed in the LEAP programme, the teens serving as role models for younger children and their peers. College students are employed to support teen after school programmes. The Free Library also buys into an online subscription provided by Brainfuse which offers homework help and online chat to a live tutor.

The library’s College Prep Program provides high school students with workshops and coaching to help them gain college places. The programme includes college fairs, application process, applying for financial aid and exam prep.

Words at Play

The Words at Play project is a community outreach programme for families with children aged 0-5 and focuses on increasing vocabulary through play. Children who are exposed to more words when they are young have a higher success rate when they start school, children in areas of high poverty are not exposed to as many words as their peers in wealthier areas. The library partners with the science museum, an art museum, the performing arts centre and the zoo and the project is funded by a large bank in the area. They target communities in North Philadelphia which are among the poorest in the United States. The project provides community events and play parties in libraries and community locations, the events may have live animals, music or performers but always include vocabulary building activities to help parents and children learn together.

Senior Services

The Senior Services area was the brainchild of President Siobhan Reardon. It is a relaxed area with large light windows, carpeting, comfortable armchairs, newspapers, magazines and books, giving senior citizens a more homely area. Additionally there is a computer area, some of the computers have assitive technology and senior patrons can use the computers for an extended time. There is also a private screened area where advice and one to one sessions are held. Dick Levinson, Senior Services Librarian, provides a wide range of programming for older people which includes computer skills, hobby talks, history lectures, learning new skills, healthy lifestyles and finance planning.


E-Gadget Helpdesk, TechMobile and Community Hotspots

The E-Gadget helpdesk has been running for over a year in the main foyer of the Central Library, it runs as a drop-in with two library staff, twice a week and they always have people waiting. Originally it was to help patrons use the ebook service but now they help with anything from using selfie sticks to setting up apps on tablets.

The TechMobile is a custom built mobile computer lab, it is fitted out with eight laptops and seven tablets as well as being a WiFi hotspot. The vehicle attends community events, community organisations and groups and is staffed by a Digital Resource Specialist and a driver/assistant. One to one help is on offer as well as workshops.

Three Community Hot Spots are provided by the Free Library in high need areas, these are computer areas set up within community organisations. They are staffed by Digital Resource Specialists and are open access for all the community to use (no library card required) but workshops are also delivered on work skills, computer basics and social media. An additional hot spot is available at the airport for travellers.

Digital Resource Specialists are a new initiative, they are usually promoted from information assistants who are keen to work with technology. The aim is that there will be one Digital Resource Specialist based in each library branch and they will be the go-to person to provide computer or technology help at that library, they will also deliver technology programming.


Culinary Literacy Centre

The Culinary Literary Centre on the fourth floor of the Central Library is an innovative and inspirational new service from Siobhan Reardon and her team. It is the first of it’s kind in the United States. The centre houses a commercial kitchen, cameras and a large screen as well prep tables and seating. The premise behind it is to connect literacy and cooking. Reading, maths, measurements, conversions, sequencing, are all important parts of literacy and cooking. The centre looks at literacy in it’s widest forms including health literacy and consumer literacy, engaging with the immigrant population and residents with low literacy levels. Additionally the centre provides a wide range of community programming including demonstrations by local chefs, bakers, cook book author events, school visits and workshops, family cooking, preserving classes and cake decorating . Librarians Liz Fitzgerald and Suzanna Urminska have developed multiple literacies progammes with hands-on experiential learning, these have proved to be incredibly popular with the community and local schools. The programmes they offer are expanding and one of the most recent initiatives has been to make mobile kitchen boxes to enable culinary literacy outreach and programming in branch libraries. Each box includes an electric wok, a blender and a safe set of kitchen implements that adults and children can use, so while not every library can have an industrial kitchen they can all take part in some culinary literacy programming.


There is a great deal more innovation and community engagement happening at The Free Library of Philadelphia including developing neighbourhood library clusters and community councils, strategic initiatives, volunteering and working with friends groups in new ways – but I will save the rest for my report.

NYPL – Bronx Library Center

The Bronx Library Center is the largest public library in the Bronx, it is a modern building of 78,000 square feet, which opened in 2006. I was shown around by Chief Librarian Michael Alvarez.


The library is open from 9am-9pm Monday-Saturday and 12pm-6pm on Sundays. The opening hours have been extended since it first opened from 8pm-9pm, the library is especially well attended in the evenings and the later opening time allows for more evening programming. Circulation is not increasing at the Bronx Library Center but attendance of programmes is very much on the rise.

There are 130 computers, a mixture of desktops and laptops, the free WiFi is used extensively. Shelving and book stock has been reduced to make way for more tables, seating and study areas, more is now spent on digital resources. During my visit it seemed that the seating areas were well used with people on their laptops, phones, gaming devices and tablets but there were very few people browsing the books.


Careers Service

The library has a specialist careers area offering classes, help with resumes (CVs), one-on-one coaching for job seekers, online resources, computers and three job fairs per year. The careers centre is open seven days a week.



Computer classes are delivered by librarians and information assistants and these are supplemented by librarians from the TechConnect programme, a central NYPL team. TechConnect offers over 80 free technology classes from the basics to coding, using Skype to photo editing, business applications to purchasing a tablet and so much more. There are also regular classes on using the catalogue and library online resources. Where possible patrons are signposted to sign up for a computer class if it seems that they need support on the PCs.


NYPL BridgeUp is an after school educational programme for at risk youth, funded by a legacy trust donation. The Bronx  Library Center is one of the five NYPL sites to host the programme. Partnering with local schools, specialist educators are employed by NYPL to work with selected young people over a five year period.

Adult Learning Centre

The library provides free adult literacy classes delivered by library staff and volunteers. It is the biggest centre for these classes in the NYPL system, the demand for adult literacy classes is extremely high and the library currently delivers 24 classes per week. It has been one of the largest growth areas for the Bronx Library Center. There are also free courses in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to improve speaking and listening in English and a young adult literacy programme.


Adult literacy class

Adult literacy class

Teen Area

The teen area is popular and welcoming, there are young staff in this area and adults are discouraged from regularly using this part of the library. Teens are consulted on what they would like to see in their library. A monthly teen council group is held and any teen can take part so they can have a voice on future programming and library services.  Current teen programmes include author events, a coding game competition, design a leather bag workshop, grafitti workshop and a travelling zoo in the library. NYPL also host regular TeenLIVE cultural, artistic and technology programmes across the branches, these are funded through a family endowment left to the library for young audiences.


Children’s Area

The childrens library has it’s own floor. During my visit children flooded into the library at the end of school to do homework and use the computers and WiFi. Homework help was available if needed. The children’s library also has it’s own room for events, story times and school visits and a smaller room for hands on maker programming, both crafts and technology. There are extensive activities available for children including video games (Xbox, PS3 etc), crafts, story times, puppetry, e-book discussions, science Tuesdays, family sessions, computers and board games. The Bronx Library Center also hosts a free after school programme, Innovation Lab, which runs at selected NYPL sites, delivered by staff and volunteers. The Innovation Labs are aimed at tweens and encourage them to deal with issues they may be facing by using blogs, podcasts and technology.



In the basement there is a large auditorium. This can be hired out to host events for other organisations but there is also a regular programme of events including film shows, concerts, author talks, poetry and presentations.



I met up with Jean Harripersaud, who heads up Adult Services at the Bronx Library Center and also oversees programming, the library has the highest amount of programming in the city. Jean ensures that there is extensive outreach and collaboration with the community. Her team take part in local festivals outside the library but they also continually go out to visit different groups to promote library services. This includes visiting senior centres, nursing homes, schools, childcare providers, detention centres, and community groups. She says that wherever possible she likes to give a quick presentation to groups or at community events as she feels that this is far more effective way of promoting library services than just having a table at an event. A new outreach development Jean is planning for the team is visiting nursing homes to read short stories to residents.

It was great to see such a busy, vibrant library, so well used by all sectors of the community. I found it interesting that although this is a large library, like other libraries I have visited there were very few library staff on the floor, usually only one person on each floor or two at peak times in each area. Peak times are the lunch hour and after school/work.  A lot more of the staff time is spent on planning and delivering programming and Michael says that most of their patrons are fairly self-sufficient when it comes to using the library spaces.

NYPL – Mid-Manhattan and Stephen A. Shwarzman Building Libraries

New York Public Library (NYPL)

Mid-Manhattan Library

I started off my visit to New York City at Mid-Manhattan Library on Fifth Avenue. The library is a six storey building of approximately 25,0000 square feet, situated virtually opposite the central flagship library, The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The Mid-Manhattan Library is open for longer hours than any other of the 91 NYPL locations, it is open for 88 hours per week, with extended hours until 11pm on Mondays to Thursdays. The library houses NYPL’s largest circulating collections including an extensive World Languages Collection catering for over 50 languages. The library also houses NYPL’s Picture Collection, about 1.5 million pictures clipped from books and magazines and organised in subject order, broken down by decades.  I was shown around by Managing Librarian Billy Parrott.


Managing Librarian, Billy Parrott with some of the Pictur Collection

Managing Librarian, Billy Parrott with some of the Picture Collection

On the top floor the Mid-Manhattan has a large space where it hosts free author talks and lectures, at least three to four evenings per week, and other adult programme events such as weekly film shows on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

The library is one of the biggest centres for the New York City Identification Card (IDNYC). This scheme is run in the library by the City and has proved hugely popular. The free card is for anyone who lives in New York and can prove that they have an address regardless of immigration status. It is accepted as ID for entrance to City buildings, opening a bank account and can be used as a library card. It also gives one year’s free entry to many cultural institutions.


There are 50 free computer classes held per month on the fourth floor computer lab. These range from the basics, to using the Cloud, social media, using apps, safety and maintenance and much more. Classes are usually 2 hours in length and are delivered by librarians and informatiion assistants, whoever has the skill set to run a class. Registration for classes opens one week prior to the class, customers are allowed to register for three classes per month. Because the classes cover most topics and are so frequent, customers are usually signposted to a class rather than extensive one to one help being provided on a daily basis. Very quick instant computer help may be available if time allows but most of the floors are only staffed by one member of library staff at any one time and a security guard.


The library also uses pages (entry level shelvers, usually young people), circulation staff on the ground floor and welcome volunteers at the entrance.

Some programmes are delivered by partners, for example the SingleStop sessions offer help and advice on healthcare, health plans, citizenship, and the nutrition assistance programme. The after school programme, the innovation lab (creating blogs, podcasts and videos) is run by a central NYPL team of specialist educators, they work closely with the schools and students can earn school credits for completing the programme.

Other programmes run by the library include contemporary classics book discussions, each one on a pre-set title and the English Conversation Hour, held twice weekly as a drop in, for anyone who wants to practice their English.

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

At the Central library – the one with the famous lions, Patience and Fortitude, I met up with Michelle Misner (Manager of Library Services Coordination), Carolyn Broomhead (Research Community Manager), Maura Muller (Volunteer Manager) and Susan Rabbiner (Assistant Director of Exhibitions).

image image


Maura manages volunteers for the four research libraries and the 88 branch libraries, volunteers can only assist staff not replace staff. Volunteer roles include tour guides, literacy tutors, ESOL tutors (English for Speakers of Other Languages), knitting and crocheting, events, shelving, welcome desk, map division, special projects e.g. pre-prep and digitising, homework help mentors and job coaches. When volunteers are needed for specific tasks or extra help in the branches Maura often emails volunteers to see if anyone is available. NYPL has high numbers of volunteers, fluctuating between 1,100 and 1,500. However many are high school students who volunteer for 20 hours as part of their school community service. This means that there is a high turnover of teenagers which can put extra pressure on staff with volunteer training, to combat this problem Maura and a group of volunteers produced a video on how to shelve. There are also often corporate volunteering days, giving businesses the opportunity to take part in some community work whilst encouraging team building and giving the libraries some corporate sponsorship. These types of volunteers are encouraged to watch the training video prior to their volunteering day.

Volunteers in the research libraries may often belong to the Friends of the Library, they are often retired and donate money to the library. Volunteers in the branches may be teenagers doing their community service for school or volunteers in social housing who give 8 hours a month community service in exchange for lower rents. Maura and a retired librarian volunteer handle all of the recruitment and selection of the volunteers but the training is provided by the individual departments where the volunteer is placed.

Research Programmes

Carolyn co-ordinates programmes and services for the research libraries with a focus on expanding the use of the research collections and also works with the outreach team encouraging branch and general public use of the research collections. Carolyn and her team often work outside of the library in the universities supporting graduates and students in the city. She also promotes their digital collections and the hope is that eventually all of the digital collections will be open access across the world.

One of the projects running is the Community Oral History Programme, this is operating in the branch libraries and has proved very popular. Volunteers are collecting oral histories of the community and these are then put on the NYPL  website. The demand for this project has been so high that they are now looking to expand it using the research collections to support memory circles, and also link it with the ancestry databases and the map and photography collections.

Michelle Misner and Carolyn Broomhead

Michelle Misner and Carolyn Broomhead

Hanging exhibitions

Hanging exhibitions


Susan explained about the exhibition programming at the Schwarzman Building. In the main gallery there are usually four exhibitions per year. Within other exhibition spaces they hold flash exhibitions which are put on at short notice, responding to news and events, for example the death of someone famous or celebratory anniversaries. The exhibitions use items from NYPL collections. Exhibitions play a really important role in getting people into the library, they are the main way that the general population, who are not researchers, learn about the library’s extensive collections.


At the end of the day Michelle gave me a tour of the very impressive iconic building. Unfortunately the Rose Main Reading Room is currently closed for repair but we were able to view the rest of the building which includes reading rooms, study centres, a large children’s lending library, historic collections, a library shop and cafe.


iPad information points around the building

iPad information points around the building

Lego Patience and Fortitude in the Children's Library

Lego Patience and Fortitude in the Children’s Library

Library treasures - P. L. Travers' umbrella, author of Mary Poppins. The umbrella that enabled her to fly.

Library treasures – P. L. Travers’ umbrella, author of Mary Poppins. The umbrella that enabled her to fly.



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.

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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!

Accommodation, conferences and bedtime reading!

The planning side of my trip is really coming together now. I feel like I have spent days poring over hotel and B&B websites. In the end I have decided to go with Airbnb all the way. There are lots of choices but I have managed to find a whole variety of rooms in people’s homes with excellent reviews and all really central in the cities I am visiting. Hopefully I will be a short walk away from most of the main libraries. I’ve had very friendly emails from all of the hosts I’ll be staying with and they seem happy to give me tips and advice on where to go in any spare time. I think staying in people’s homes will really add to my experience and it is significantly cheaper than staying in impersonal hotels.

New York

Boston Washington










Some of the bedroom window views I can look forward to!

Interest in the study tour has also been building in the UK. In the last couple of weeks I have been asked to contribute to a blog article about the future of British Libraries for the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN). I have also been asked to deliver a lecture to University of West of England (UWE) MSc Information Management students later in the year covering the study tour and funding/sponsorship applications. Lastly CILIP Publicity and Public Relations Group (PPRG) have asked me to speak at their conference in November to share my experiences and findings. It’s all getting very exciting!

Bedtime reading!

Bedtime reading!

Finally today I wanted to share with you this morning’s post – the Royal Mail kind! These may well be my bedtime reading so I can make the most of any free time in evenings and at weekends.