July 6, 2006

Future of the Library: Long-Range Planning

I've been invited to share my views about the future of the Framingham library system, as part of the library's long-range planning process. I love libraries and am glad to participate (despite my lingering bitterness over falling just short in building a new branch library in Saxonville. What a wonderful community asset it would have been! We got 60% of Town Meeting but needed 2/3! Argh. I digress....)

Anyway, here are some of my early thoughts. Have any of your own?

* I see the public library as an important "third place" in the community -- a public gathering spot and heart/soul of the community, that along with home and work is important in people's lives. My ideal library would be better integrated into the local streetscape. Siting the main library tucked away on a side street was, in my opinion, not the best choice for downtown, although I realize there may not have been other parcels available. However, I'd love to devise some way to make an appealing pedestrian environment between the library and other destinations downtown, to encourage a lot of two-way foot traffic back and forth between the library and other spots downtown.

* The library should serve the 21st-century information needs of residents across our very wide demographic spectrum of age, income, education and technical sophistication. For example, the library needs to serve both the needs of lower income residents without Internet access at home, and upper income residents with high-speed Internet access who might like expanded services such as reserving books online (including books already in the library, not simply ordering books that aren't available) or wireless Internet access (Wi-Fi) in the library (as many libraries already have). The library could also help teach technology novices how to use the Internet for reference, and offer advanced informational services for technically sophisticated residents. I believe expanded video, DVD and software offerings would be popular.

* I'd also someday like another shot at creating a "destination" branch library in Saxonville (as opposed to the trailer-like facility there now) that could become an anchor to that neighborhood, as well as a more appealing "third place" for that area of our community where there aren't many welcoming public gathering areas. I support continued and expanded informational, educational and cultural programs at the main library, and hope someday there can be more of that at the McAuliffe branch.

* My ideal library would also include a cafe, which could be privately run so as not to compete with private industry. Cafes are very popular in bookstores, with good reason. A cafe would encourage people to stay longer and linger at the library facility.

* I also support the library's traditional, core mission of providing books, periodicals and reference material to the town's diverse population, including literacy programs, reading groups and non-English offerings. I think the library should aim to appeal to all segments of our community, across all age groups, literacy levels, income levels, and ethnicities. Additional and expanded outreach to educate people (especially those in segments of our town that may be less familiar with library offerings) about the many services available would be welcome.

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