Just nine people scattered themselves throughout the rows of chairs set up in the C.H. Booth Library’s meeting room August 15 for the first of three scheduled “focus groups” designed to assess the community’s views on short- and long-term change at the library. The sessions may seem like the routine stock-taking exercises common to most public institutions in times of transition, but for some of those few who showed up last week, the invitation to weigh in on the direction of the library seemed particularly urgent and relevant. While the focus groups are invited to think about the future, it was clear that a more current shuffle of library equipment and personnel was on their minds.
The Booth Library’s new director, Shawn Fields, and the library board that hired him is hoping, as every new administration does, to open a new chapter of opportunity and growth at the library. So the focus on the years ahead and the effort to engage the public in the process seems appropriate at this juncture. The poor attendance at the first focus group last week, however, had to be disappointing to library officials on both counts. Also, the significant and precipitous initiatives in recent weeks to change both the location of the library’s popular reference department and how it is staffed seems to have undercut the library’s message of community engagement in setting a course for the future. Many people were surprised by these moves, including, apparently, the library staff. Someone jumped the gun, and the conversation has turned to present problems rather than future opportunities.
Newtown is a community that loves its library, and not just in the sense that it reveres the lovely landmark and cultural center sitting at the heart of its iconic Main Street. The town embraces the Booth Library as it would a family member. It is where children go to explore their imaginations, scholars go to research perplexing questions, the jobless go to search online for career opportunities, and readers go to lose themselves in the stacks, in magazines and newspapers. So in thinking about the library’s future — in the next three years, or in the next 15 or 30 — the process has to start with a family discussion. And it all starts with having the family show up.
The two remaining focus group sessions are scheduled for times when most people should be able to attend. The next session is Saturday morning, August 24, and the third and final session is scheduled for Tuesday, August 27, at 7 pm. Both gatherings will be in the meeting room at the C.H. Booth Library at 25 Main Street. For those still unable to attend, but who would like to comment on the library’s current and future plans, the library director’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.