The Ever Changing World of the Library

There’s a quote attributed to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli which holds true for libraries, as it does for many aspects of our lives, “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” Whether you consider a “library” to be a service, the people delivering that service, or the building itself, what a library is now is very different than it once was. Change is very much on my mind today, so pardon me while I muse a bit…

Judy Kimball has recently retired from service with us. If you are a regular user of the branch, you’re sure to know her by her friendly smile and jovial nature. Judy has been a fixture at the branch library since the early 1990’s, coming on as one of the volunteers who got the branch doors opened again after they were unceremoniously locked following a cut to the municipal budget. Judy eventually became a paid employee when funding for the branch library was restored. When I was hired as Branch Manager in 2003, Judy and Rita taught me everything I needed to know. Through the years, Judy has been a solid supporter of the library and advocate for our users. Though we’ll miss her serving in an official capacity as an employee, I’ll bet that she’ll not be a stranger to the library in the future.

I remember Judy telling me once how, occasionally, a book would come across the library desk with her mother’s handwriting inside the cover. It turns out that many years ago, her mother did cataloging work for the library and, in the days before printed labels, marked the books by hand. Some of those older books still exist in the library’s collection. I’ve always found that connection through the library, across the two generations of Judy’s family, very touching.

So, as is part of change, Judy’s departure means that we have new people joining us. Three new part-time employees, in fact – Molly, Lydia and Lauren – will be filling out our work-week, both at the branch and at the main libraries. Each of them brings new and unique talents to our group, and we can’t wait to get to know them better.

Just as the staff at the library changes, so do the services of the library. Whether due to the changing tastes or needs of the community, or changes made necessary by evolving technology or other factors, the ability to adapt is central to being able to succeed. I am lucky to work in an environment where change is not only embraced by the library staff, but pursued. As a group with very diverse interests, we are all encouraged to not only bring our interests into the mix of what the library offers, but to solicit new ideas from our users. Programming at the library, both for kids and adults, has grown tremendously in the past few years and, I expect, will continue to grow and change.

In addition to a group of enthusiastic library workers, the building itself has proven to be very adaptable to change over the years. The openness of the space has allowed the library to easily evolve its service offerings to meet the changing needs of the community. An area of the library that was once home to a couch, some small side tables and other casual seating when the library first opened is now home to our public computer cluster as well as our DVD and audiobook collections – services not even conceived of at the time the library was built. Adapting the library for technology – whether wired or wireless – has been fairly easy over the years, with few walls or other obstacles to get in the way.

Another area, originally designated as a smoking lounge (yes, you read that correctly!) is now an open, multi-use space, serving as our gallery space for local artists, a seating and work area adjacent to our teen area, and a quiet corner for smaller library activities.

On the opposite side of the building, what was once an area filled with row after row of work tables and bound volumes of now-obsolete reference materials, is now busy with users working on laptops and tablets while other visitors relax and read, basking in the sun streaming through the windows.   On select evenings, this space transforms to meet a new kind of use. If you have attended any of the “SPPL After Hours” concerts over the past year or so, you have seen how this space can change into a cozy spot for live music. With a quick rearrangement of furniture, and the addition of a few atmospheric embellishments, this space, bustling with more traditional ‘library’ activity just hours before, reopens to the public as a sometimes peaceful, sometimes rollicking, music venue. On January 25th, the latter will be in effect as we host The Marc Chillemi Quintet for an evening of midcentury jazz.

Change is always happening at the library and we embrace it, as each point of change offers us the opportunity to evolve, expand or otherwise enhance our services. So, while a change such as Judy’s departure is sad for us, it also presents us with an opportunity to welcome new friends into our mix of coworkers and to wonder, with some sense of excitement, where this new mix will take us.

Kevin M. Davis, Director, South Portland Public Library

This post was originally published as a Library Links column in the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Sentry on January 17, 2014

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