The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) was the library system that had the least time to spend with me (one day), but it was the library that was best prepared to answer my questions on “the future of library branches”. As the BPL is at this moment working out a new strategic plan for the future development of its branches, my visit was well-timed to the discussion taking place there.
Two years ago the “Community Needs Assessment” (CNA) project group was established to gather information, reliable data and opinions from interest groups, which then would serve as a basis for the development and prioritization of a strategic plan. In addition to the standard questions posed to users and non-users alike, the CNA also wished to determine what effects future changes to the borough of Brooklyn might have on the services of the BPL, which US-wide trends could be anticipated in library science and to which of these the BPL should react. In addition was the question of what impact major technological developments would have on BPL service. All essential areas of a public library were addressed:
- organizational structures
- advisory board / board of trustees
- public relations and marketing
- customer service
- lifelong learning
- cultural diversity / integration of immigrants
- services for seniors
- support of economic development (Business Library)
- innovation and risk assessment
Many of the findings have already been implemented in German library science (working together with schools, seniors as a target group) or have been discussed in the blogs of previous librarians in residence (sponsoring, collaboration, business library). Others, in turn, are still being developed and not ready to be made public. For this reason I will address only a few important points of the strategic plan here.
In view of current and pending budget and staff cuts, staff motivation is dropping. With the help of training courses staff will be qualified to handle the multiplicity of tasks facing them and increase their self-confidence, and at the same time it will be demonstrated that despite these difficult times the library is on a strong path to the future. As part of this training, executive management will focus on staff motivation, strategic management of change, and increasing work with the community.
The borough of Brooklyn is undergoing great change. For example, where 20 years ago Brooklyn had a great deal of industrial wasteland, today there are huge apartment complexes housing young families. The BPL wishes to respond in a timely manner to this change and also create new libraries in these areas. In addition, Brooklyn has a very heterogeneous population: in a few parts of the borough people still ask for a classic, diverse, printed book collection. Other neighborhoods, however, are in need of children’s libraries, meeting places and cultural spaces or, most of all, access to technology (computers, internet) rather than a traditional library. In the future it will not be so much a matter of branches offering similar material to all, but of an analysis of which core areas each section of the city is in need of and of matching these to each library’s services. This not only saves money, as seldom-requested services are eliminated, but increases the community’s acceptance of the library, as the collection is satisfying the actual needs of the community (for example, through adequate room for children’s programs, shorter lines to use the internet, support provided by a social worker, etc.)
Roughly one-fourth of BPL branches are Carnegie libraries, and in the interim these are more than 100 years old. While it is true that many of the Carnegie libraries are under landmark protection, they receive, in contrast to Germany, almost no subsidized funding at all. Many other BPL buildings were constructed in the 1960s. What they have in common is that the logjam in renovation projects far outstrips the BPL’s financial means. Here, too, there is a need for quick solutions, before faulty heating systems and roofs, and leaky plumbing force closings of libraries, which won’t be replaced.
The Brooklyn Public Library is aware of the challenges it faces now and in the near future. Strategic planning is on a fast track and many subitems are already being addressed -- staff training, for example, or diverse reorganization plans. Parallel to this are discussions with the BPL’s advisory board / board of trustees, as well as with representatives from local politics and public administration. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the BPL will find sufficient supporters for its innovative strategic planning among these groups and its own colleagues.