Redefining Public Library Spaces in Rural Maine

Work & School Intersect. Again!

This week, I made a presentation for the library board to review as we initiate the process of remodeling and adding a dedicated programming space to our building. A remark was made that “some people in town” [unidentified] are grumbling we are moving ahead of ourselves and our community. That the library ‘has no need for meeting spaces, because there are plenty of meeting spaces in the community already.’ This is very interesting to me, since I have spent two years gathering information through informal and formal, face-to-face and heart-to-heart, conversations with everyone I meet (whatever their age), both in the library and out. I have gathered information from my instructors and colleagues at SJSU, from my colleagues in the Maine State Library and in libraries across the state of Maine, and from colleagues around the world using social media groups to have conversations about community libraries. I have read widely in the field of librarianship and information science to understand trends in library spaces and facility planning. I am happy to hear what the arguments are in opposition to library development, because this allows me to prepare my proposals with those arguments in mind.

 

First, we must embrace the world as it is, whether we like it or not. We must live in the reality that we have been given to live in, whether we yearn for ‘good old days’ or not. There are people in the town who grumble about the fact that everyone in town is old, that all the children grow up and leave, that there is not enough work or affordable housing for families here. Sometimes, these same folks will advocate to allow no changes in town. They resist modernization. They resist creating a community that is welcoming to new businesses. They even resist looking at business models which don’t fit the old ways of working. They want an old-fashioned life, but cannot understand why people leave to find work.

 

We do our children and grand-children a disservice when we stultify our towns. We do them a disservice when we relegate our library spaces merely to the antiquated function of circulation of materials. The world has moved on. Information has moved on. We must move on. And in our community, we are behind the curve, as you will see.

 

As a book repository, with very limited users, the library could function easily with volunteer coverage, and the limited space that currently exists. There simply were few people who entered the doors for any reason. And those numbers were consistently decreasing.  When the board president in 2014 decided to advocate for more programming, and for maker-space activities in the library, there was a gradual shift in the ways the library was used, and a demonstrable increase in visitation.

 

By changing the library to a place of information sharing, by creating social learning groups, by bringing people into the library who have not walked through the doors since childhood, by forging partnerships with the school system, and by providing a ‘boutique library’ experience for every visitor to our facility, we have created synergy. Sometimes, I schedule groups to visit when the library is closed, because they need the extra space. Sometimes [gasp!] more than one group wants to meet in the library at the same time! We have created the need for programming space, meeting space, quiet space, work space for people of all ages. I will discuss those needs in further detail, but first a brief history of Dorcas Library, of library trends, and a bit about the town of Gouldsboro.

 

History of Dorcas Library

1932      Dorcas Society built a two-room cottage.

1956      A children’s room was created by Louise Paine. This was relocated in 1984.

1972      Gladys Sewell created regular open hours.

1978      Mary H. Chase donated funds for the Harbor View Room.

1984      The Library and the Dorcas Society merged to become the Dorcas Library Association.

2004      Some construction and/or rearranging of interior spaces occurred at about this time.

The children’s room was moved to its current position, and a Young Adult room was created. The bathroom facilities were improved and a work room / closet was added.

2012      King Foundation grant for technology; long range planning grant from MCF for redesign.

2013      Truck Crash in November required an update of the entryway and the circulation area.

 

Important Public Library Trends

  • Affinity Groups are the ‘new’ model for social learning, but the history of affinity groups is ancient. The Dorcas Society was an affinity group in Gouldsboro in 1932, and it pleases me to bring the library back to its roots, by finding people with common informational interests, and bringing them together for conversations, knowledge sharing, reading and discussion, and learning.

 

  • Maker Spaces were first mentioned in 1995 in Berlin. These have become increasingly common in school and public libraries. They provide opportunities for people of all ages to play with technology. This includes current and emerging technologies (programming, gaming, robotics, virtual reality, artificial intelligence), but also historical technologies (tinkering with old radios and VCRs, typing on manual typewriters, figuring out how to retrieve data floppy disks). Providing a consistent space for making, coding, innovating and inventing will give people access to the skills they need for the future.

 

  • Collections Decentralized. Increasingly, academic libraries are moving collections off-site to make more room in their facilities for meeting spaces, collaborative tech spaces, and learning commons (2009 Syracuse University, 2011 Denver University). Naturally, there is resistance to this movement. But the books deserve to be stored archivally (proper temperatures, humidity levels, and air quality) if they are not being utilized; and the people certainly deserve to have space dedicated to their learning and collaboration. In the public library, this is slower to happen, but it must happen. I certainly do not advocate for removal of books, or even reduction of collection budgets. I do advocate for the storing of collections in such a way that spaces are opened for people to enjoy. The contemporary library (which I prefer to call a community learning center, and which is headed by people called ‘informarians’) is not about showing off how many items are in your collection. It is about showing off how many people are occupying your space!

 

  • User input. Participatory development of all aspects of library function, including the facilities. I know what our visitors want, because I have asked them, whatever their age or interest. I have asked people at the grocery store or in restaurants if they use the library, and if they haven’t, I ask them why. I have listened to people. I have sought clarification at times. And I have heard, and my proposals are their proposals. I will fight for their ideas!

 

From Gouldsboro Comprehensive Plan 2005

“Perhaps the major regional issue is economic development, which needs to occur on both a sub-regional (i.e., Schoodic area) and a countywide basis. This needs to be done in conjunction with addressing first-time home purchase opportunities for younger families so that the labor force is able to remain in the area.”

 

Re-Inventing the Dorcas Library

The present library facility has been pieced together over the past 85 years. The last major renovation was 40 years ago! We need to take this opportunity to create a community library for the next twenty years. We need to modernize basic systems, fix structural issues, and bring the library forward in time. We need to do all these things, and still preserve the feeling of the welcoming library in a cottage.

 

The changes I am proposing, with considerable input from many others, are neither radical nor new! These are ideas that have been in motion in many libraries, for many years already, with great success. The idea of an addition and/or renovation to Dorcas Library is also not new. This idea has been in play since 2014!

 

From the beginning of my service at this library, I asked and reflected upon these questions:

  • How can our library best serve our community? What are the needs of the community?
  • What information sharing opportunities do people in this community need right now?
  • What types of information sharing will people in this community need for the foreseeable future?
  • How do people use our spaces? Where are they uncomfortable? Where do they habitually go first? Where do they linger longest? Where do they make themselves ‘at home’. What do they ask for? What do they complain about?
  • In what ways do we need to update/modernize our facility systems (environmental footprint, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, security)?

 

Providing Space for Affinity Groups, For Making & Tinkering, For Collaboration & Content Creation

The community has several challenges which are best met by providing more of a platform for social learning. First, we are an aging community. This is a popular retirement spot. People are concerned about health and wellness issues, preventing onset of dementia and other debilitating conditions, and quality of life as they age. Forging strong social bonds and learning or mastering new challenges are two excellent ways the community learning center concept can support our community. People are also worried about social isolation in our remote, rural community. We are 30 miles from the nearest large town. People are siloed in their own homes, often alone. A rural child may not have any other children living within miles of their home. The library has become a community center for people to ‘hang out’, use the internet, play a board game, work on a puzzle, or just socialize with friends. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

Secondly, we have lost jobs in the community, the region, and the state. The frustration and economic stress is palpable. The regional opioid addiction epidemic is one symptom of that frustration. Food insecurity and hunger are also directly correlated to economic hardship. A library can focus on the symptoms [providing connections to social service agencies; creating support groups for families; creating an edible landscape/community garden]. A more significant role for the library community would be to work in partnership with town leadership, the chamber of commerce, and county agencies to change the primary problem. Offer opportunities at the library for local business people to model entrepreneurship, provide space and resources to incubate new business ideas, and support innovation and product creation.

 

Thirdly, the children who do live in this community have access to some emerging technologies and basic services such as internet through the school. However, many have no internet access at home. The only 3D printers in the region are at school, safely locked up during weekends, vacations, and summer months. The collaborative skills kids use in class are also unavailable to them when school is not in session, and their families do not necessarily know how to provide access to such activities at home, even if internet access is provided. Our community learning center needs to ensure that families have access to platforms and that enhance and sustain their learning in 21st century skillsets, such as developing solutions-based thinking, participating in cloud-based collaborations, communicating via social media platforms, and researching and analyzing online content. We need provide opportunities for parents to ‘catch up’ on these skills, as they look for ways to increase family incomes. As they observe the fun, others in our community may step up and try on new technologies!

 

Provide Spaces for Community Gatherings

The library hosts at least four large community celebrations each year, and attendance at these events is increasing. Additionally, the library provides gallery space to a different local artist each month, and often we hold receptions in their honor. We could use more open space where people can congregate comfortably, more wall space where art and local history artifacts can be displayed, and a coffee and food service area that is centralized and easy to use.

 

Provide Spaces for Work & Quiet Reflection

Increasing library programming for all ages, and encouraging community gatherings and conversations in the library, has diminished our ability to provide truly quiet spaces for reading, study, and contemplation. Our spaces are, to be blunt, noisy! True, the joyful noise of learning and social bonding is welcome. But so is the silence of contemplation. We must find a way to balance these needs.

 

High-density shelving provides a way for the library to house the entire adult collection in a greatly reduced footprint, which opens spaces for meeting and gathering, and spaces for quiet activities. Glass doors between the common area and the Harbor View room; more easy chairs that allow for devices to be comfortably used and charged; bench tables for people who prefer using a desk; reading nooks with good lighting; chairs and benches from which to contemplate our glorious views; a tranquility garden with a water feature. These are all ways we can enhance our services for those who crave quiet.

 

Provide Spaces for Private Meetings

Contrary to those individuals who believe there is ‘meeting space aplenty’ in the town, the library needs to provide private meeting space inside our facility. First, library staff, the library board, library committees, and volunteers often hold meetings during open hours. A conference room would be much more appropriate for these conversations. Secondly, adult learners who are concentrating on ABE skills, sometimes prefer more privacy for their tutoring sessions. Thirdly, because librarians in rural areas are a resource for social services, it is important to have a closed-door area where a community member or local family can privately describe the information they need, or the types of assistance they are seeking. On that note, the library has already been asked to host several social support groups (AA and NA groups; caregivers’ support; veterans’ support; grief support groups). We would do so, however we lack private space that is available when library staff [me!] is on-site to manage the facility. Many volunteers work in the library during closed hours, which limits our ability to host any private and confidential support groups during those times.

 

Provide Spaces for Staff & Volunteers to Work

At present, the library has insufficient storage for supplies. We have insufficient space for cataloging and processing collection materials. We have insufficient space for large print projects, such as the annual fundraising campaign. Letters, envelopes, returned items, thank you cards… the project requires considerable workspace to be available for approximately three months. The result of working space deficits is clutter. Projects in progress are visible to the public, whether we like it or not. We need spaces to do our work unhindered and unseen.

 

Final Thoughts

Projects like this can seem daunting! People can easily become overwhelmed. Sometimes people want to go back to the beginning of the process… saying that we need to seek more public input. We need to wait for a survey result. The fact is, we have surveyed already. We have public input already. Some of us have been analyzing that information for years.

 

Because these proposed changes are new for this library, and relatively new for any library nearby, there is some resistance to such ‘progressive plans’. The fact is, these are not progressive plans. This is a project to bring us up to current library standards. These are welcome and desired changes for our local young people, who are spending more and more time at the library, and for many of our summer visitors, many of whom visit again and again.

 

I will fight for these library spaces, because I will be representing people who have trusted me with their needs and wants. On the other hand, I have no attachment to how the library is decorated [although I have forbidden mauve and puce]. I am interested purely in how people use our spaces, and the ways they will blossom and grow when we give them room to do so.

 

 

Resources Churning in My Brain as I Captured These Thoughts.

Baiocco, L. (2016). Labor of love: Opening up archival gems for community engagement. Accessed 29 September 2017 at:  http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/may16/Baiocco–Labor-of-Love–Opening-Up-Archival-Gems-for-Community-Engagement.shtml

 

Casey, M.E., and Savastinuk, L.C. (2007). Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc.

 

Laerkes, J.G. (2016). The four spaces of the public library. Accessed 29 September 2017 at: https://blogs.ifla.org/public-libraries/2016/03/29/the-four-spaces-of-the-public-library/

 

Norton, M.H., & Dowdall, E. (2017). Strengthening Networks, Sparking Change: Museums and libraries as community catalysts. Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS). Accessed 29 September 2017 at: https://www.imls.gov/sites/default/files/publications/documents/community-catalyst-report-january-2017.pdf

 

Schmidt, A. (4 May 2016). Asking the right questions: The user experience.  Accessed 20 September 2017 at: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/05/opinion/aaron-schmidt/asking-the-right-questions-the-user-experience/#_

Simon, N. (8 October 2008). The future of authority: Platform power. [Blog. Museum 2.0]. Accessed 30 September 2017 at: https://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2008/10/future-of-authority-platform-power.html

 

Stephens, M. (2016). The Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, Positive, and Purposeful Change. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

 

Zickuhr, K. (2014) Public Libraries and technology: From ‘houses of knowledge’ to ‘houses of access.’ Accessed 30 September 2017 at: http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2014/07/09/public-libraries-and-technology-from-houses-of-knowledge-to-houses-of-access/

 

 

3 Thoughts.

  1. This resonated so much because the village closest to us is going through a similar plan – and a vocal minority in the community is pushing back hard. The library is housed in a historic building and some are afraid that adding on (including a meeting room) will ruin the “Character” of the building. File this as a TL/DR but here’s a bit of my letter to the editor of the little local paper:

    As a part time resident and taxpayer in the ERDL service district, I must express my dismay at the recent response to the library’s exploration of improving its facility. I worked as a librarian for 15 years in Indiana and now I am an Assistant Professor at the School of Information at San Jose State University. Our online graduate program prepares new librarians to support and uphold one of the foundations of libraries: providing services and access to information for communities. It also allows me to live full time in Michigan.

    Is public library use declining in the United States? No, it’s changing. The nature of what people can do at public libraries is amplified by technology not dampened. Public libraries can now serve as experiential spaces for people to experience and learn about technology. Access to technology that community members might not have at home is one such example of the role public libraries are playing. Pew Internet and American Life recently reported on libraries as centers for learning and community growth – calling library users “lifelong learners.” See also https://theconversation.com/has-the-library-outlived-its-usefulness-in-the-age-of-internet-youd-be-surprised-58198

    “The Library is a growing organism” is a foundational tenet of librarianship and I believe ERDL is exploring how best to serve future citizens – with space for experience and for the needs of young people. Shouldn’t we balance preserving our historical heritage with the future patrons of this library – hopefully the children of families who might move here for the excellent schools and a thriving future-facing library? Or is it better to promote the fact that the number of children in Elk Rapids has dropped. Is that the story we want to tell? I would also ask all in the community to consider the implications of asking citizens to travel to other nearby libraries. Why not just put up a sign at the village limit that says: “Libraries are not important to us.”

    • Thank you! Every piece of evidence I can provide our board is helpful. They trust me, generally trust my research and my education to date, but this is all very new to them. I have provided them access to many of the articles I have read over the past two years. This week, I shared my blog post with the board, in order to provide them with “a verbal defense” for the questions that people have about our renovation plans. In general, when I can demonstrate that this is not just something I am making up out of personal preference, they are more accepting of new ideas.

  2. Hi Faith,
    My apologies for the delay in posting; I am under the weather from the smoke caused by the fires. In regards to writing a grant for the fire zone areas it’s unlikely the rebuilding will be done within the time-frame required for the class. I would like to write an overall grant for the area, except that the syllabus instructions specify a library. Well, I would like to take the class and learn a lot so writing an overall grant would be possible in the future.
    What a wonderful post you’ve done. You have delineated the areas in which the library needs to grow perfectly. I see two common threads, one for more room and one for the need to employ local workers, which will grow jobs and help the economy. You mention also that you have in place a grant that will help you upgrade your technology, and for this I wonder if it covers the electrical upgrades that may be required, but I digress.
    What stood out for me was the requests for a meeting room for the public and a coffee and food service area. These are complementary, and it may be able to write a grant in such a way that the construction of both of these can be covered. I will check with the Professor for the class.
    The second option is to create a grant for archiving books off-site, which will free up room for some of the desired changes.
    I would love to write a grant to upgrade the interior, ex: HVAC, but honestly don’t know if such a grant would exist, again will check with the Professor.
    I very much like to dig in and get to work where there’s a lot to be done. Please tell me your thoughts.

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