Chester Public Library Long Range Plan
March 2014 – CLICK TO DOWNLOAD FULL REPORT
Chester is an evolving community of nearly 4000 individuals – with families of deep generational roots living right alongside transplants from out of state. There are local merchants, builders, artists, writers, craftsmen, lawyers, commuters, teachers, students and more. Over the years, many have had an enduring relationship with the Chester Public Library. For some, it’s a quiet place to browse and think; for others, it’s a place to bring the kids on a rainy day and share a love of reading; for others still, it’s a place to pause and inquire, pick up a book, and find out what’s going on in town.
Regardless of their relationship with the library, most residents have an opinion about what the town library should be like – what new collections the library should provide; what subjects and formats would generate their interest; what kind of programs should be offered that would come close to matching the quality of the popular “Chester Voices” series and the late Professor Johnston’s lively book discussions. There has been a lot of discussion about the state of the building – the tiny, one hundred-year-old landmark that sits on ground owned by the church and that has not seen substantial renovation since the 1960’s. With space at a premium; each acquisition demands a discard, and there is little room for programs or displays. The library’s steep and treacherous stairs restrict access to strollers and wheelchairs alike and office space for staff does not exist. Even so, despite ongoing talk of moving to a bigger building, most residents secretly hope that this charming and historic library on West Main Street can somehow, someway, reinvent itself to meet the needs of the community. And given that Chester, happily bound by national forests and waterways, has at most 1,000 buildable lots in its future, explosive growth in library use is probably not what the town should be planning for.
To address these issues, the Board of the Chester Public Library decided to begin a comprehensive community needs assessment in the fall of 2008. It had been four years since town residents had been officially surveyed about the library. With the completion of the automated circulation system in 2007, all past goals had been met. This new assessment would look at the collections and programs the community desires and use that information to set priorities for at least the next five years. Those priorities would hopefully determine the need, if any, for a new or expanded facility.
- Long Range Planning Committee: First, the Library Board formed a long range planning committee to generate new thinking about the town of Chester and the kind of library that would best reflect its culture.
- Brainstorm Kickoff: Chris Bradley of the CT Consortium of Libraries led a brainstorm discussion which generated words and phrases like unique, maintain the excellence, blend of old and new, artistic, funky, authentic, comfortable and resourceful when discussing the town and its preferred library.
- Town Survey: The Board later developed and conducted a town wide survey available on-line and in print which ended in May 2009.
- Focus Groups: Following the survey, facilitator Peg Reyer of the Chester Company led three adult focus groups and one group of sixth graders from Chester Elementary to explore and probe more deeply the issues raised in the survey.
Hundreds of residents participated in these various research efforts.
The following is a summary of findings that were consistent across all phases of the research. Please see survey and focus group results found in the Appendix for more detailed findings and messages.
- Residents want this long-range plan to result in significant changes to the library. Keeping the status quo is unacceptable.
- Increasing the number of hours the library is open is change number one. The hours must also be consistent and easy to remember.
- Town pride is evident. Residents want the library to reflect their town and its people – what they call Chester essence. It should be unique, charming, comfortable, high tech and high quality, collaborative, resourceful, right-sized. They don’t want a big library just because other towns have big libraries. New technologies and population down-sizing may soon make big new spaces unnecessary and even an ill-conceived choice.
- More people would prefer to modify the existing building to make it accessible (if that is possible) than to move to a different building – but they want to rethink the space based on the advice of experts. A little expansion can go a long way, they say, if it’s carefully thought out and not over-consumptive.
- Chester residents see exceptional programming as the best way to draw a broader group of residents into the library and make up for what it lacks in amenities and space.
- What participants like best about the library are the knowledgeable, friendly, courteous staff, the inter-library loan system, the library’s location in the center of town, the architecture and history of the building, distinctive book discussions, the children’s story hour and museum passes.
- What they like least are the inconsistent hours, the building’s lack of access, the stairs, the lack of comfortable places to sit and read and hold programs, only one computer, the unattractive basement; no fun space for children; very few resources for tweens and young adults
- For now, books remain the heart of the library, although residents would be receptive to exploring new formats. They want more adult fiction and nonfiction books, more DVDs and more computers.
The library board of trustees developed the following recommendations to address the findings above.
- Increase library hours to four full-time weekdays including lunchtime, with one full weekday closed for administrative tasks; one weekday evening of extended hours, all-day Saturday open and all-day Sunday closed.
- Select a space/infrastructure committee to develop a list of key parameters for updated library space with improved access for all patrons including those with disabilities.
- Hire an architect/space expert to come up with a final plan for how to reconfigure the interior space of the library building to make it more accessible and create more room for technology, programming, kid space, office space and overall comfort and ambiance.
- Provide current technology as a critical library resource, including continued WIFI access, more computers, expanding access to digital content and online databases; as well as advanced training in computerized search for all staff-members; and electronic resource centers or kiosks for in-demand activities such as job searches and income tax filing.
- Hire a part-time program director to focus on creating unique programming that reflects the interests and age groups of Chester residents.
- Form an advisory group of children and tweens to be involved in the creation of kidspace and the ongoing selection of kids programming and resources.
- Form a fund-raising committee to explore alternative sources of funding and begin to plan ongoing fund-raising activities.
- Promote library services and programs in the community through ongoing publicity and partnerships with the school system, local artists and writers, senior citizens, other tri-town libraries, etc.
A Note of Thanks
The CPL Long Range Planning Committee and Library Board wish to thank Chester residents and library staff for offering their time, opinions, suggestions and assistance in the creation of this plan.
Chester Public Library Technology Plan
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The mission of the Chester Public Library is to provide information, selected cultural events and intellectual recreation to all the citizens of Chester through the provision of an organized collection of print, multimedia and electronic resources. This mission shall be met by the services of a trained professional staff and support personnel in an atmosphere that is welcoming, respectful and businesslike.
The Library shall actively encourage the use of its materials, seek to keep residents of all ages informed of available resources, and foster the intellectual growth, character and cohesiveness of the community.
To serve as a free, welcoming center of enrichment and learning for the Chester community providing:
- A diverse and changing collection as well as a more permanent representation of well-known classics;
- Knowledgeable, friendly and responsive staff;
- Technology connecting our community to the global information world;
- A variety of library services and programs for all ages; and
- A comfortable, accessible facility in which to gather, share and create.