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.
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.