Small groups meet to back-and-forth ideas
By Alison Rooney
In the year 2000, the circulation of items from the Butterfield was about 8,000 items; in 2012 it grew eight-fold to about 65,000 checked-out entities. Still, Library Director Gillian Thorpe isn’t satisfied. She is on an always-evolving search of ways for the library to better serve the community.
As an association library funded largely by the constituents it serves, Butterfield functions as a community center of sorts, provides computer access, and serves as a safe place for children to come to after school hours, amongst other things.
Now Thorpe has turned to the community, seeking input on what other services the library can offer patrons, and asking where improvements can be made. The first of several planned focus groups took place recently, and was attended by a range of participants, from high school age on up.
Thorpe opened the evening with a few words about libraries in general, Butterfield in specific: “People have emotional ties to libraries. When I was a kid [growing up in Cold Spring] this wasn’t a friendly library. It was a ‘shhh’ library. Now we hand out markers and welcome children, and we find people stay involved with us. Why are libraries important? Yes, they save money, but think back to how it all began — how did people communicate? Verbally. First they shared information, then wrote it down on cave walls, tablets, and finally books. Books gave people access to information, but books cost money, and so entered the library, which gave access to everyone without stigma.”
Continuing, Thorpe described today’s edition of Butterfield: “Many people walk in and never read a book; they use computers. We have access to databases that are vetted and not Wikipedia. We have downloaded audiobooks, storytime programs, Guggenheim passes, hands-on training on computers every day. We’re trying to help people in ways you never imagine: we have iPads, e-readers which people can test drive here — so many things.”
Each participant was then asked for a personal perspective on how she used the library. The responses were varied, beginning with Donna Cotennec’s, “I use the library for books pretty much only — about three a week.” This prompted Thorpe to say that she finds that many people narrow in on the one thing that matters to them and sometimes she feels she’s “promoting to death, for no purpose. How can I tap into you to let you know what else we have going on here?” she asked.
Suggestions were made to highlight the untraditional offerings in greater prominence on the library website. Later, Heather Chefalo, another participant, called herself “not a big user at all, and even though I’m vaguely aware of what the services are, I’m definitely now aware enough. I don’t always make the connection; I have to get it into the forefront of my mind.”
Mina Elwell, a Haldane junior, said she “went to the library every day when I was little; it was a connection to things I care about. Now I get music, movies, comics here. I love to read and write and that came from storytelling.” Thorpe seized upon access to this demographic, describing the library: “We’re not cool and we’re not not cool; we have 65-year-olds working side-by-side with kids. Many libraries have a no-children-under-12-can-come-in-unattended policy, but we’re the opposite.”
Elwell suggested that rather than attempting classroom programs, the library should try to connect through the extracurricular activities of the students most likely to be interested, such as those involved with the literary magazine and the journalism club.
Catherine Platt concurred with Thorpe. “I’ve lived my whole life here, and I used to be afraid to come in here.” Hearkening back to the previous topic, she questioned the programming for the middle school years: “They’re an in-between population and some of the programming seems too young,” adding that her eighth-grade son “peruses movies here, but that’s it.”
Thorpe commiserated, saying that it was a work in progress, and that all ideas for this age group were welcome. She mentioned open-mic nights and a comedy hour and wondered whether kids of that age would turn up or would turn their noses up at anything occurring at a library. Elwell’s grandmother, Ruth Elwell, suggested screenwriting classes as a possibility.
Kelly Maglio, who commutes to the city every day, called herself “a big user — I’ve done every museum pass, tested the Nook, you name it. [The website] electronically streamlines what I have to do: getting emails when stuff arrives back in is great, and it’s such an easy site to navigate.”
“I use everything,” proclaimed Shelley Gilbert. “I love the bookstore, talking to the librarians, all of it.” Gilbert said that when she moved here, she was a little frustrated that the books the library then stocked were not books she wanted to read and that this was not the case now, although she asked if multiple best-seller lists, including those from The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, etc. could be posted. Thorpe readily agreed to that idea, calling it an easy one to implement.
Thorpe concluded the session by detailing some of the plans afoot to expand library services in the coming months. These include changing some things physically within the library, putting racks on casters to create small, inviting, home-like sections; “accessorizing” the books by having helpful additions such as baking pans available for borrowing along with cookbooks, and even tools available for loan, stored in the library’s new shed. Thorpe then urged participants to “carry on this conversation with friends” and come back to her with any ideas, suggestions or criticisms.
More focus group sessions are planned, with the next scheduled for 10 – 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1; light refreshments will be served. Visit butterfieldlibrary.org for details.