Adult Services Librarian Naomi Miller creates unique Reader’s Advisory guides.

Community Library Offers Boundless Resources in Limited Space

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Thursday November 07, 2013

City Council was on the road again for the October 21 meeting, hosted by the Community Library.  Library Director Louise Murphy led council members and the public on a tour of the facility, highlighting the young adult section, reference area, circulation desk, children’s library, office spaces, and the technological advantages the South Burlington library has to offer. 

As we traversed from the circulation area to the children’s room, it became clear that the library serves multiple functions and has outgrown its current location in many ways. Shelf space is at a premium, and books are stacked floor to ceiling with overflow editions piled sideways, lining the tops of shelves. Limited space is also a challenge for library staff.  With 6.65 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staff positions, desks are shared by two people, and storage and work space is almost nonexistent.

While the South Burlington Community Library’s attachment to the high school presents challenges, Library Director Louise Murphy and her team are doing an impressive job.  

How did the partnership begin? In 1969, in lieu of a library, a bookmobile traveled around South Burlington when it was a more rural community. When the bookmobile lost its funding in 1971 and the leisure arts committee members were seeking a home for their books, the high school offered a place to store them. By 1979, use of the library had increased and the current wing was built. 
During the first thirty years of the library’s existence, there was only one professional librarian to serve the high school and community library needs.  Claire Buckley, who started at the library in 1990, serves as the high school librarian today.  “We are two separate institutions under one roof, “Murphy said, “We have very different missions.”

The division of services began in May, 2001 when Murphy was hired.   She was told a new library would be in the works within two years. Since that time, community surveys have been conducted in 2004, 2006, and 2011 to determine whether residents would be amenable to the idea of a free standing library. In addition, a $15,000 feasibility study was completed in 2006.  The latest 2013 long range city plan does include a library, slated in the 2018-2023 timeframe.  

The library operates as a joint venture of the school district and city government.  While the entire collection is open to the public, each book is either owned by the High School or by the Community Library.  Responsibility for oversight of the library lies with both school administrators and the library board of trustees. The citizens of the community support both the High School Library through the School budget and the Community Library through the City budget.  

Despite space constraints, South Burlington’s Community Library is doing an incredible job of offering a wealth of programs, and residents are taking advantage of them. Resident usage of the library averages 230-400 people each day with a transaction occurring roughly every 30 seconds. There are, on average, 300 student users in the library daily.  The library’s budget is $432,645 with per capita spending at $22.38 which Murphy explained is low in comparison to other local libraries. The circulation of books in FY ’13 reached 131,000;  8600 adults and children attended programs last year, and library visits totaled 76,681. The library is open 6 days per week for 57.5 hours each week.  
“We are very, very busy” Murphy said. 

The library is a lot more than a collection of books, although they are still in great demand. “Libraries are adapting, not becoming obsolete” Murphy said. The South Burlington library offers vast access to technology and tech training, remote access to digital resources such as e-books, newspapers from around the world, 5,000 magazines, and over 500 online classes. One can also study five different languages through the Powerspeak program. 

If the social aspect of the library is more appealing to you, check out regular readings by authors, a brown bag lunch series, knitting, the Food Revolution Series, morning and evening book discussions, English conversation groups, or the Sunday concert series that has been presented for 9 years. Poetry slams and living history performances are also among the packed roster of offerings.

Adult Services Librarian Naomi Miller, who has worked at the library for 12 years, maintains book selection for the collection and  leads book discussion groups. She also came up with a unique idea for a series of reading advisory guides. The reading advisory shelf contains theme based suggestions for book discussion groups or for the reader who is looking for something new.  Lists of book titles are organized by subject matter or writing style so patrons can easily identify new titles in genres they already enjoy. South Burlington is the only library in the state that offers these customized Reader’s Advisory materials.

Can’t make it to the library? No problem. Volunteers conduct delivery and pickup of books to residents who are homebound because of disability, illness or lack of transportation.  

The designated children’s library, tucked between the Vermont book area and the reference section is a delight to behold. Calming pale blue and green colors in homage to the City of South Burlington’s logo, and lively murals, handpainted  by staff members Cindy Ferry Forrest and Meg Paquette, decorate the walls.  Bean bag chairs help to create cozy nooks for children to curl up with a variety of books. The recent renovations are thanks to the work of children’s librarian Meg Paquette who explained that the story times they offer are often full. The children’s collection includes picture books, easy readers, and book boxes filled with activities based on a theme, such as insects, or dinosaurs. Special programs like plays, puppet and magic shows, crafts, and a summer reading program are offered throughout the year.  

As Murphy wrapped up her presentation, she showed a number of design possibilities for a free standing library. She provided photographic examples from around the state as illustration. From the expansive porch at the Charlotte library to the reading gardens at the Williston library, the images certainly served as a catalyst to begin thinking what the SB library could look like in the future.  A generous endowment of $250,000 was received from Paul Blanchette in 1998 to build a library separate from the high school. The money is still there waiting to be utilized for the purpose he intended.

Murphy implored the Council to think about an interim space to better serve the community prior to the 2018-2023 timeline. The new space could allow for a dedicated teen area and could also help expand programming in order to reach a broader segment of the population. Community suggestions for a new library include a reading garden, coffee shop, comfortable reading nooks, abundant computer access, small meeting rooms for public use, large performance space, self check out machines, teen and young adult space, easy access for parents with children and mobility challenged individuals, and a display area for local artists. “Great communities have great libraries” Murphy said. “I think a library should be the first thing to go into City Center since libraries bring people to them. They are stable tenants that see a tremendous amount of foot traffic…this compliments retail facilities and are catalysts for development.”

While South Burlington waits to see how the recently appointed City Center task force prioritizes a free standing library among the other major structures being considered, you can support the multitude of programs happening right now. Check out the website, or drop by to get the latest schedule.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent