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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.