The Board of Alders’ City Services and Environmental Policy Committee met in City Hall Tuesday evening to discuss an issue integral to the lives of many city residents: the New Haven Free Public Library.
Known by Yale students as the Ward 1 polling place in most elections, the Ives Main Library is the cornerstone of the city’s public library system. Located directly across from the New Haven Green, the Ives branch is far more than simply a place to borrow books. Instead, as City Librarian Martha Brogan told alders at the meeting, it is a place for classes, for accessing resources and a place for learning.
Brogan said Tuesday night’s workshop on the library system arose from a discussion between her and Committee Chair and East Shore Alder Sal DeCola earlier this year. While Brogan said she and DeCola have previously discussed using Yale’s library system as a community resource, DeCola suggested she come before the alders to publicize all of the public library’s resources. Those resources, Brogan said, are multifaceted, ranging from literacy classes to volunteer income tax preparation. Brogan said jobs-readiness materials are among the library’s most crucial resources.
“This is really on the spectrum from the Small Business Center on Dixwell Plaza to the big projects on State Street,” Brogan said. “There’s an expanding array of social services agencies that are coming to us because, particularly at Ives, we have a high population in need.”
The NHFPL has its sights on renovation in the near future. Brogan said the library’s last major renovation occurred in 1990, over a quarter of a century ago. She said the library plans on doing a large-scale study next year — partly to investigate potential renovations, and partly to bring the public up to speed on the library’s progress.
The four librarians who testified during Tuesday’s workshop said one of the library’s most valuable resources is “Lynda,” a database of online education videos. NHFPL reference librarian Tom Smith said Lynda provides videos on a variety of subjects analogous to the digital university, “Great Courses.”
Brogan added that though Lynda is the library’s single most expensive subscription, it is worth the cost, describing the program as a “catalyst” for which the library will likely seek city budget funding in the future.
Making the library’s resources more public was of particular concern to the alders and librarians at the workshop, which followed the committee’s public hearing. East Rock Alder Anna Festa suggested the library reach out to the city’s youth through public schools. Xia Feng, one of the library’s public services administrators, said the library currently enjoys a “wonderful partnership” with the schools, especially through summer reading programs. Brogan noted that Feng chairs a monthly committee that investigates and evaluates the library’s relationship with the city’s schools.
DeCola, meanwhile, said the library might also consider reaching out through community networks that radiate from the city’s churches by advertising programs in weekly church bulletins.
Other committee members were concerned with the accessibility of the library’s resources. Brogan assured the alders that all signage and policies at the library are displayed in both English and Spanish to ensure that all city residents can read them.
But concerns about accessibility extended beyond language. In New Haven’s crowded downtown, parking is often scarce, which alders noted can be a problem for those heading to the library. DeCola said he plans on working with the city and Yale to negotiate parking deals so that residents can access the library. DeCola, who represents the far-flung reaches of the Morris Cove, said many of his constituents often go to the East Haven library instead of New Haven’s due to the difficult parking situation Downtown.
But Brogan also identified the opposite problem: residents of neighboring towns often come south to New Haven’s library, exacerbating the parking problem.
Despite the parking headaches, alders praised the library for the work it has done in adapting to the 21st century.
“I think you’re doing a terrific job in moving the library forward,” Festa said to librarians at the workshop. “I have actually taken advantage of some of the entrepreneur courses and found them helpful for various projects, so I really commend you.”
The New Haven Free Public Library has five locations around the city, including the Fair Haven, Dixwell and Hill neighborhoods.