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

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Teens

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.

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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.

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Café

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.

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Art

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.

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Tech

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.

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Branches

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.

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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.

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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,

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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.

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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.

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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.

Plane tickets booked – Library appointments made

CILIP and the ESU have issued a press release on this year’s Travelling Librarian Award so it’s a good time to give an update on my tour plans – plenty has happened in the last few weeks.

I have now managed to arrange my dates and meetings with the libraries I plan to visit and my plane tickets are all booked. I have decided to fly from Bristol via Amsterdam to Boston. Although this makes the travel time slightly longer it is far more convenient for me than flying from Heathrow and was significantly cheaper.

I will be arriving in Boston on the evening of Saturday 19th September, this will give me a day to look around and then I will be visiting the Central Library on Monday 21st September where my contact is Michael Colford, Director of  Library Services. The Central Library in Copley Square has been undergoing a major renovation project which includes a new teen area called Teen Central  – here’s a taster from The Library as Incubator Project and the Library Journal

From Boston I will be travelling by Megabus (bargain $5 ticket) to Hartford. Hartford Public Library is one of the LTC cohort. My contact here is Matt Poland CEO of Hartford Public Library. He has recently announced that he will be leaving at the end of the year but hopefully not before September. Here is Matt talking about some of the library’s community engagement projects.

Joining me in Hartford will be Erica Freudenberger, Library Director at Red Hook Public Library which is also one of the LTC cohort. From Hartford I will travel with Erica to Red Hook and the Hudson Valley. Erica has very kindly offered to put me up for a few days at her house in Catskill, she tells me that it is a perfect time to visit the Hudson Valley as it will be the fall, the leaves will be changing making it incredibly spectacular. Red Hook Public Library has been given five star status by the Library Journal and was also named as the first finalist for the 2015 Best Small Library in America Award, given by Library Journal and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. You can read more about this amazing small library and their engagement projects here. Erica is also arranging for me to give a talk to the Mid-Hudson Library System of 66 member libraries. It will be exciting to share information about our own library service, volunteers, community and outreach projects with colleagues overseas. While I am in the Hudson Valley I hope to look round some other local libraries as well.

From The Hudson Valley I will travel by train to New York. On 28th September I will be meeting up with Michelle Misner, Acting Director at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the main branch library for New York Public Library. Michelle has arranged for me to meet with Carolyn Broomhead (Research Community Manager), Maura Muller (Volunteer Manager) and Susan Rabbiner (Assistant Director of Exhibitions), she has also put aside some time to give me a tour of the building to see their work in action. On 29th September I will be visiting the Bronx Library Center and meeting Chief Librarian Michael Alvarez. Whilst in New York I also hope to drop in on the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library and the Mid-Manhattan Library.

The next part of the tour takes me to Philadelphia. My contact at the Free Library of Philadelphia is Donald Root who is Chief of Central Public Services Division. The Free Library is undergoing a transformational initiative called Building Inspiration: 21st Century LibrariesNew areas include Central Senior Services designed to serve Philadelphia’s growing population of older people.

From Philadelphia I will travel by train to Washington DC. I will be meeting Kim Zablud, Assistant Director of Public Services at DC Public Library. We will be touring round Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library (Central Library), I’m particularly interested to see the new “Labs” and Kim has also arranged for me to visit some of the branch libraries. I have a weekend in Washington so hope to make some time for some tourist activities and also take a public tour of the Library of Congress – can’t really go all the way there and not do that!

The last leg of the study tour will see me flying to Chattanooga on 6th October. There are lots of exciting things happening at Chattanooga Public Library. There’s The 4th Floor, Camp Etsynooga and Makeanooga for starters. Maker spaces, community collaboration, knowledge sharing and the sharing economy have become the order of the day at the Downtown Library.  I hope to spend some time with Executive Director Corinne Hill, Library Journal’s 2014 Librarian of the Year who has been re-inventing the public library. My contact is Mary Barnett, Public Relations Coordinator and 4th Floor Ops, Mary is also making arrangements for me to meet with community partners and key staff during my visit.

The next step is to arrange accommodation. As most of the libraries I’m visiting are in city centre locations the nearby hotels are quite pricey for a long trip. Wherever possible I’m going to look for AirBnB, this will give me a great opportunity to stay with people and find out more about local areas.