The library of the future

Wide-ranging community forum helps Peterborough frame the possibilities

Ideas about the Peterborough Town Library flew like leaves in an autumn breeze on Feb. 16, as more than 90 people gathered to envision the library of the future at a community forum.

The forum was the first step in gathering opinions about what services should be available in a new or renovated library. The design of the library will be based on the wants and needs of the community.

The key word of the day was “flexible.” The need for the new library to be flexible and adaptable was the favorite idea, while the fourth and fifth favorites mentioned a building that would be sustainable, green and flexible.

The idea of flexibility seems to be on target, since no one knows exactly what the needs of the library will be in the future as lifestyles and technology continue to change.

The 1833 Society, which is not only charged with raising all the funds for the new library but also with planning the building, is already envisioning a library with lower operation, maintenance and energy costs.

The trustees and the 1833 Society have agreed that the 1893 portion of the building, which includes the portico, will not be torn down and that a new or renovated library will be on the present library site.

The second-place forum idea was that people of all ages should be able to engage with the library, which should be a center for lifelong learning and opportunity.

The third-place idea focused on aesthetics, saying the library should be welcoming, be comfortable and include outdoor space.

Among the desired spaces is maker space, which is a place to meet and create, a place for workshop-type activities. It’s usually hands-on and can be a group experience or a project led by a teacher, or anything in between. The maker spaces encourage innovation by providing tools that will assist in creating anything from art to model airplanes to robots. While 3-D printers – also suggested by forum participants – are often found in maker spaces, the tools need not be this sophisticated.

Space for meetings is desired –everything from little rooms for two people to a small theater. Spaces could be for recording, listening, studying, tutoring, filmmaking, self-publishing and teleconferencing.

More appropriate spaces could help the library meet another goal often mentioned at the forum – a strong connection with the community. An outreach to, or partnership with schools, as well as with the Toadstool Bookshop and the Mariposa Museum and other businesses, were mentioned, as were an electronic newsletter and a bookmobile or other outreach for those who have limited ability to get to the library.

The addition of a café to the library’s offerings was a popular idea, and before the end of the day a Peterborough merchant had asked to be able to bid on running the café service. It is exciting to envision such a positive change, one that could happen if the capital campaign is a success.

Some participants felt so strongly about keeping the community informed about what is happening at the library that they suggested the library have a person – paid or volunteer – dedicated to handling public relations.

Education in how to navigate the digital library world was also identified as a need. E-books can be loaned, but if patrons are unfamiliar with the process, to say nothing of the way their electronic devices function, it can be next to impossible to take advantage of the paperless process. It was suggested library staff be educated in current technology, so they can educate patrons.

There was a call for a children’s area that is separate from the rest of the library, to keep noise levels down and to keep children safe. The current open-concept children’s room was criticized as being unsafe. Children have unfettered access to the nearby stairwell and adult stacks. One participant said she purchased a card for the Jaffrey library because of the problems she finds in the Peterborough library’s children’s room.

Other suggestions about how to improve the library included a better handicapped access, DVD checkout space and process, a stronger Wi-Fi, a drive-through book drop, self checkout and a burglar alarm system.

Attendees said the library has a gap in programming for teens, and also needs more adult and children’s programming.

Forum participants found many positive things about the current library, including staff, resource support, public computer access, the McGilvray historical room, Wi-Fi access and museum passes, to name a few.

One piece of advice was to figure out what the library is and what it is not. Is it a place for entertainment? A place to socialize? A place to drink coffee?

The forum was the beginning of a process of collecting information from the public. A series of smaller, hour-long meetings are scheduled for March and April, and two tours of the building are being planned as well. Half a dozen focus groups will be held this spring as the information gathering phase of the library project continues. Finally, we will have virtual as well as real suggestion boxes available soon.

Marcia Patten is the chairman of the Peterborough Library Board of Trustees.

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